In high school, Keenan Allen was considered the top safety in the country by several major recruiting services. But he quit the position to play wide receiver at Cal, and now he’s one of college football’s most explosive offensive players.
With a young team, Cal will need another productive offensive season from the junior to be competitive in the Pac-12 Conference. But that doesn’t mean Allen won’t be imagining himself in the secondary when the Bears’ defense lines up against Nevada’s pistol offense in the first game at the refurbished Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
“Every play, I want to be out there with the defense,” Allen said.
As a senior at Northern Guilford High School in Greensboro, N.C., Allen collected 145 tackles and eight interceptions at safety, while scoring an incredible 53 touchdowns on offense. He was ranked No. 5 on the Rivals.com 250 list and choose Cal so that he could play on the offensive side of the ball with his half brother, quarterback Zach Maynard.
“I kind of want the ball in my hands — it comes down to that,” Allen said.
He lived up to his billing right away, breaking DeSean Jackson’s school freshman receptions record with 46 in 2010. As a sophomore, he was second in the Pac-12 in receptions (98) and third in receiving yards (1,343).
“When I circle the Cal game, the first thing that comes to mind is: How are we going to slow that guy down?” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “He’s as good as anybody [in college football right now] that I’ve seen live or on TV.”
Coach Jeff Tedford said Allen could also be one of the best safeties in the country if he played defense.
“Keenan’s a guy who can do pretty much anything he wants to do. He’s very gifted,” Tedford said. “For us, he could play either side of the ball — there’s no doubt about it. He could go play safety and be just as effective.”
But the Bears aren’t planning to move Allen; they need him on offense. With Marvin Jones’ departure, Allen is now the only receiver on the Bears’ depth chart who’s caught a pass in a college game.
Meanwhile, the Bears’ starting secondary enters the season with a combined 107 games of experience between seniors Josh Hill and Marc Anthony and juniors Alex Logan and Steve Williams. The defense has allowed the conference’s fewest yards from scrimmage two years in a row.
“I don’t know if [the defense] could be any better,” Allen said.
But would the NFL be interested in Allen as a safety? Now that the double-tight-end set is all the rage, pro teams are said to be looking for big, physical safeties that can match up with the Rob Gronkowskis and Vernon Davises of the world. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Allen fits the description.
Allen is planning to enter the draft in April and he said the idea of playing defense in the NFL is enticing.
“I’m all for it,” Allen said when asked if he’d consider such a proposition.
But Tedford said a switch is improbable.
“It would be different, maybe, if he wasn’t so productive,” he said.
NOTE: Cal sophomore linebacker Cecil Whiteside was ruled academically ineligible for the 2012 season Tuesday, but is still a member of the team. Whiteside had been dismissed from the squad on May 24 for violating a team rule, but was reinstated late in July. Whiteside recorded 17 tackles as a freshman in 2011.