On Saturday, Josh Allen will play his final home game at Kroger Field. He needs just one more sack to pass Oliver Barnett for the most in school history (26) and to tie Dennis Johnson’s single-season record of 12. A finalist and semifinalist for several national awards, Allen will leave the program as one of the best to ever wear blue and white, a statement few would have believed when he committed as a two-star recruit back in 2015.
In honor of Allen’s incredible career as a Wildcat, I opened up the KSR archives to reflect on how he got here.
January 31, 2015: Josh Allen commits to Kentucky
You’ve heard it before, but the story of how Allen and Kentucky came together is amazing. While in Washington D.C. to see a different recruit, former UK defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley stopped by nearby Montclair to see Allen, a two-star prospect, in a last-ditch effort to fill a spot vacated by Tyrone Riley, who had decommitted the day before. Because Allen moved from Alabama to New Jersey for his senior year of high school, he was widely overlooked by the major recruiting services, despite leading the state in sacks. He also played wide receiver, earning all-state honors in Alabama as a junior.
As the story goes, all Ansley needed was one look at Allen to get him on a plane to Kentucky for an official visit, during which he committed. If Ansley hadn’t gone to Montclair that day, Allen would have likely ended up at Monmouth, an FCS school. As Allen’s high school coach John Fiore said the day after, the Cats hit the jackpot.
February 4, 2015: Freddie says Josh Allen is the Steal of the Class
No one was a bigger fan of Allen from the start than Freddie Maggard. On UK’s National Signing Day Show, Freddie said Allen was the steal of the class.
“Everybody else’s loss is Kentucky’s gain,” Freddie said. “Remember this moment for Josh Allen.”
August 2015: Allen stands out in camp
Allen immediately turned heads in fall camp as a true freshman who could be called into action early on the defensive line.
“He’s going to be a very good football player,” Stoops said after one practice. “When, I’m not sure, but I love his work ethic, I love his attitude and I love his talent.”
“The New Jersey sack leader is bigger and better than I evaluated on film. Optimal size and athletic ability to become a special edge rusher.”
November 21, 2015: Allen gets his first career sack
Allen played in all 12 games his freshman year as a backup and on special teams, with his best performance coming against Charlotte, when he shared his first career sack with Farrington Huguenin to go with two tackles for loss. As Freddie noted a few weeks later, Allen was primed to become a major part of Kentucky’s defense heading forward.
“Josh Allen will look and perform like a different player. Thrown into action due to necessity, a year of the Korem/Edmond program is necessary. Allen’s ceiling is high.”
March 2016: Allen’s transformation turns heads
When spring practice began in 2016, it became clear Allen had put in the work in the offseason, showing off an added 20 lbs. of muscle, which made him even more dangerous on the edge.
“Today revealed that Josh Allen must be Kentucky’s speedster on the outside,” Nick wrote in a practice report. “Running with the twos, Mason Wolfe could hardly touch him. He was a consistent disruption for the offense.”
Even with a nagging shoulder injury, Allen was one of the stars of the spring, registering three sacks in the first scrimmage.
“I’m ready right now. I’m ready to just compete with everybody. I don’t care who it is. I’m ready to compete, and I feel like I can hold my own.”
“When I first got here, I was just fast off the edge. That was all I used really. Now I’ve worked on on my techniques,” he said. “If you be consistent in what you do — good hand placement, if you read your man — you can win anytime.”
August 18, 2016: Allen goes “Behind the Facemask” with Freddie
During fall camp, Freddie interviewed Allen for his “Behind the Facemask” series, asking him what it was like to move back and forth from Alabama to New Jersey, and, in turn, wide receiver to defensive end.
September 3, 2016: Season-high nine tackles vs. Southern Miss
Allen was a bright spot in an otherwise terrible season-opening loss to Southern Miss, finishing with nine tackless, four solo, including a sack. He might have had more if not for injuring his shoulder. Luckily, he returned to action a week later vs. Florida.
September 25, 2016: Crucial sack vs. South Carolina
Allen may have had the play of the game vs. South Carolina in 2016, sacking Gamecocks quarterback Brandon McIllwain to create 3rd and 17 on a crucial drive in the fourth quarter.
November 5, 2016: Eight tackles vs. Georgia
Allen shined in Kentucky’s heartbreaking loss to Georgia, turning in eight tackles, four solo, and a forced fumble.
Allen finished his sophomore season with 62 tackles and a team high seven sacks. He led the SEC in forced fumbles with four.
April 2017: “Allen has transformed into a freak”
As he did the year before, Allen spent the offseason in the weight room, adding another 30 lbs. to his 6’4″ frame. As Nick wrote after watching him in practice and scrimmages, he had transformed into a “freak.”
“Allen was making plays all over the field. He’s made plenty of tackles for loss in the past, but I was most encouraged by his ability to drop back into pass coverage. Last year his reaction time was a half-second slow; now he’s much more comfortable.”
July 30, 2017: Big expectations
At his Media Day press conference, Stoops singled Allen out as a player he expected to have a breakout season.
“Josh, we expect him to make a very big jump this year. And he did some very good things a year ago, but he’s one of those guys that I talk about right from the onset, right from the beginning of practice, to have that attention to detail and to take it to another level from the beginning. He’s a guy that when he puts the fine strokes on things, he’s going to be a very good football player. I think what I liked, the maturity that I’m seeing out of him. He came in the other day just to talk about some things, and we just sat down and had a nice conversation and I like what I see out of him. I could tell he’s very focused and interested in taking it to another level.”
August 2017: The “Blitz Brothers” are born
After combining for 12.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss in 2016, Allen and Denzil Ware dubbed themselves the “Blitz Brothers” heading into the 2017 season. In the season-opening win vs. Southern Miss, they backed up that nickname with monster performances, combining for 8 tackles, 4.5 for loss, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and a touchdown. Goodness.
September 25, 2017: Standout performance vs. Florida
Allen shined in Kentucky’s devastating loss to Florida last season, with eight tackles, six solo, one for loss, one sack, and a pass breakup, all against All-SEC left tackle Martez Ivey. In an otherwise heartbreaking night, his NFL Draft resume started to really shape up.
“This film will be utilized by NFL Draft early entry committee following the 2017 season,” Freddie wrote. “Allen made himself some money on Saturday. [He] is playing as good as any Edge defender in the SEC; some say the nation.”
October 5, 2017: “Allen could end up being a first-round draft pick”
Not even two weeks later, WalterFootball.com listed Allen as a possible first-round draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
There is another Josh Allen who is creating first-round buzz in the scouting community, and that is Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen. Sources from multiple teams say that the Wildcats’ Josh Allen could end up being a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft as well.
October 7, 2017: Allen saves the Missouri game
Allen showed off his football smarts when he knocked the ball out of Missouri’s J’Mon Moore’s hand as he was trying to take it to the official for the spot, costing the Tigers crucial seconds on what could have been a game-winning drive:
#41 Josh Allen is the MVP here. Knocked it out of J'Mon Moore's hand before he could throw it to the ref! pic.twitter.com/4dK0LBQdwY
— Jeff Faughender (@JFauGFX) October 8, 2017
The SEC reviewed the video and determined the clock should have been stopped. Sorry, Tigers!
November 18, 2017: First career interception
Kentucky had a strong start vs. Georgia last year in Athens thanks in part to Allen picking off Jake Fromm on the Bulldogs’ first drive, his first career interception. I don’t need to tell you how that game ended, but Allen was a beast.
Allen finished his junior season with 65 tackles, a team-high 9.5 tackles for loss, a team-high 7 sacks, a team-high four quarterback hurries, three pass breakups, two forced fumbles and the aforementioned interception. He was named AP All-SEC Second Team, Phil Steele All-SEC Third Team, and a Butkus Award Semifinalist.
January 8, 2018: Josh Allen announces he’s returning for his senior season
Despite some outlets projecting him as a second round pick, Allen decided to return to Kentucky for his senior season, a decision he later explained in an awards campaign video.
“I could have left, but I had unfinished business. I had games to win. Records to go after. Streaks to break. I came back to get better. I came back to get better for myself, for my family, for my son, and my brothers. I came back to make Kentucky great. To leave a legacy.”
Shortly after the Music City Bowl, Allen and his girlfriend welcomed a son into the world, which he told reporters played a big role in his decision.
“Once he came, it changed everything. It made my thought process a little different. Him being there made the decision for me. I couldn’t leave him.”
June 27, 2018: Allen goes “Behind the Facemask” again
Freddie took his player profile series with him to UK and turned the fancy KyWildcatsTV cameras on Allen to discuss fatherhood, his brand, and his goals for the year.
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) June 27, 2018
A few weeks later, Allen opened up to the Herald-Leader’s Jen Smith about a childhood speech impediment that led his family to move him to Alabama in high school to live with relatives.
“I literally had a teacher telling my family that I wasn’t capable,” said Allen, who also has since been diagnosed with ADHD.
After so many years in the special education system in New Jersey, Allen wanted a change of scenery. He wanted to see if he could be like those kids he watched from his classroom window.
I wonder what those kids say when they see Josh play now.
July 16, 2018: Allen vows to break Barnett’s all-time sacks record
Allen was one of three Kentucky players to represent the program at SEC Media Day, and told reporters he had a specific goal in mind heading into his final season: breaking Oliver Barnett’s all-time sacks record.
What does Josh Allen want to do this fall? pic.twitter.com/TjvN4wisyK
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) July 16, 2018
At the time, Allen breaking the record seemed like a stretch, but here he is, only one sack away.
September 9, 2018: Allen fights off cramps to break the streak
Kentucky broke the 31-year losing streak to Florida in large part thanks to Allen, who sacked Gators QB Feleipe Franks in the game’s final seconds, causing a fumble that the Cats returned for a touchdown.
Unbelievably, Allen was in the locker room earlier in the game receiving an IV for cramps, but when he saw Lynn Bowden’s 54-yard touchdown reception to put Kentucky up 21-10, insisted on coming back out. He finished the game with 5 tackles, 1.5 for loss, 1 sack, 1 fumble caused, 1 pass breakup and 1 quarterback hurry and won SEC Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
The sack got most of the attention, but his pass breakup on Florida’s two-point conversion attempt showcased his prowess in pass coverage:
September 22, 2018: Unblockable in huge win vs. Mississippi State
Allen got his second SEC Defensive Player of the Week award for another big performance vs. Mississippi State. He had six tackles, two for loss, a pass breakup, a quarterback hurry, and a huge sack that pushed the Bulldogs out of range.
“Nobody in the country can block him,” Mike Edwards said afterwards. “No matter who you got, you can’t block Josh.”
September 29, 2018: Career-high three sacks vs. South Carolina
Allen brought home the SEC Defensive Player of the Week trophy AGAIN after finishing with eight tackles, four for a loss, a career-high three sacks, one fumble caused and one quarterback hurry vs. South Carolina.
“I can’t say that I have,” Stoop said when asked if he’s coached a pass rusher like Allen. “I really can’t. He’s really a dominant player and he’s exceptional on his feet as well. Yeah, half the time I do want to look at, wonder why in the world I’m dropping him sometimes because he’s not blockable. But he’s dang good in coverage as well. He really disrupts things. He’s so good and comfortable on his feet and that’s where our length is helping us.”
October 27, 2018: Another career-high vs. Missouri
Allen had a career-high 11 tackles along with two fumble-causing sacks vs. Missouri, which earned him his fourth SEC Defensive Player of the Week award. In turn, UK launched his awards campaign on Broadway:
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) October 29, 2018
Through ten games, Allen has an SEC-best 11 quarterback sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss, and five forced fumbles. Pro Football Focus ranks him the best edge rusher in the country. He’s a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award (National Defensive Player of the Year) and Butkus Award (National Linebacker of the Year), as well as a current quarterfinalist for Lott IMPACT Trophy as National Defensive Player of the Year. With three games left, he’s almost certain to leave Kentucky as the all-time sacks leader and enter the league as a first-round draft pick.