by Andrew Garda
Josh Allen’s cross-country journey is poised to continue tonight in Nashville, when the former Montclair High and University of Kentucky star is likely to hear his name chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Allen grew up in Montclair and lived in Alabama for his first three years of high school before spending his senior year as a two-way star on the Mounties’ 2014 state championship squad.
After Allen originally signed to play at Division I FCS Monmouth University, MHS head coach John Fiore called around, including to Kentucky coaches, urging them to watch game tape.
Fiore knew that that game tape would make it clear that Allen had what it took to play high-level football at the college level and beyond, and he recalled two specific moments that stood out.
“There was the Wayne Hills scrimmage, which was our second one that year,” he said. “We were down by the goal line, and they had a tight end-fullback type kid who was about 250 pounds, 6-foot-4. They ran right at Josh, in what they called ‘blast’, which leaves Josh with the fullback. Josh stonewalled him in the backfield two yards deep, grabbed the running back with one arm and threw him down for a two-yard loss.”
The next moment came when the team had its game scrimmage against St. Joseph’s of Montvale, then the No. 2 team in New Jersey.
“Besides having three sacks, and five or six catches on offense, there was a play where their Division I-bound wide receiver took the ball on a jet sweep to the opposite end of the line. Josh chased him down from behind for a two-yard loss.”
That play didn’t just catch Fiore’s eye — it impressed St. Joe’s head coach and former New Orleans Saints offensive lineman Augie Hoffman so much he called his alma mater, Boston College, to get them to pursue Allen.
Just before National Signing Day in the winter of 2015, Kentucky co-defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley arrived at Montclair High School to see if Allen “passed the eye test.”
Four years later — including a junior season in which Allen (88 tackles, 17 sacks) was named a consensus All-American in addition to winning the Bednarik Award and the Nagurski Trophy, both awarded to the best defensive player in college football — it’s clear he more than passed an eye test.
Now, Allen is poised to become the highest drafted Mounties player in the school’s history, eclipsing Jeff Mills, a 1986 MHS graduate taken with the fourth pick of the third round in the 1990 NFL draft.
VERSATILITY AND UPSIDE
Allen’s clear talent stands out to draft analysts, such as Chad Rueter of NFL.com, who feels that Allen is the second or third best non-quarterback available, behind Ohio State’s Nick Bosa and on the same level as Alabama’s Quinnen Williams.
“He’s not only a fantastic athlete with above-average upper-body strength for a linebacker, but also has a great drive to get to the ball that will allow him to rack up second-effort sacks in the NFL,” Rueter said in a recent email. “He played with his hand on the ground a lot in college, and has the quicks to stand up as well, which means defensive coordinators that like using multiple fronts can plug him in no matter the play.”
Rueter compares Allen’s upside to Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller.
Lance Zierlein, another NFL.com analyst as well as co-host of The Bench on 97.5 in Houston, agrees with Rueter about Allen’s ability.
“He’s a long-limbed player with a frame that can add even more weight and his ability to play in space or rush should be highly coveted.”
Both men say Allen would certainly be a good fit for the two local NFL teams, the pair of whom pick early in the first round — the Jets own the No. 3 pick, while the Giants are slated to pick sixth.
There seems to be some that believe Josh Allen is available at 6. The Giants would RUN to the podium if it plays out that way. 🏃🏻♂️
— Jordan Raanan (@JordanRaanan) April 24, 2019
“Even with Lorenzo Carter and Markus Golden on the Giants, I feel like Allen could be an excellent fit because he could play either outside linebacker spot for them,” said Rueter. “And the Jets clearly need a pass rusher. Allen gives [defensive coordinator] Gregg Williams the ability to go to his base 4-3 at times if he wants, but also stand him up when needed.”
Zierlein especially likes his fit with the Jets.
“I think Josh Allen is an excellent fit for the Jets. In fact, my NFL comparison for him is Anthony Barr, who we all know the Jets liked during free agency.”
Allen, who is partnering with former Giants defensive end Michael Strahan and JC Penney to promote Strahan’s “Collection” line of menswear, said he’s intrigued by both teams.
“I’d be happy no matter where I go, but it would be cool to stay near home,” he said while promoting the line.
The interest appears to be mutual, as both local NFL teams had Allen in for a pre-draft visit.
Allen, who described his style as “classy but a lil’ flashy” and will be wearing a custom outfit Thursday night, credits the MHS coaching staff with teaching him how to play defense; he recorded 22 sacks as a defensive end in his lone Mountie season, when Montclair went 11-1, winning the NJSIAA North 1, Group 5 title and allowing just 15 points per game. He said teams have talked to him a lot about his explosive pass rush and the 17-sack season he just had.
But more than his physical gifts, Fiore believes Allen will be a success no matter where he lands, crediting his said no matter where Allen lands, he’ll succeed and bring something special to the team both on and off the field, just as his sister, Myisha Hines-Allen has done as a member of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.
“I’ve been preaching it for 19 years as a head football coach,” said Fiore, who will be in attendance in Nashville Thursday night with his son. “The colleges, and later on the pros, the things they care about most is what type of person you are. And whoever gets Josh is getting an unbelievable person.”
That’s something Montclair High School already got to experience firsthand.