June 15, 2011

Allen wants to be even better

Ricardo Allen is out to prove that he's not a one-year wonder.

That determination to make sure his sophomore season is as great as his freshman debut continues this summer, when the cornerback is doing everything within his grasp to improve.

A week ago, he taught himself to juggle. Yes, juggle; in only eight hours of practice, he learned to keep three tennis balls aloft without a drop.

"I just found out that A.J. Green learned how to juggle," Allen said of the former Georgia wide receiver, a first-round NFL draftee in April. "So I learned how to juggle a couple days ago. It helps with his eye-hand coordination. Julio Jones (wide receiver and first-round draftee from Alabama) can catch six (tennis) balls in two hands, so I'm learning how to do that too, even though his hands are a little bigger than mine.

"If it helps their games, I've got to bring it in mine."

So it goes for the 5-foot-9, 184-pound cornerback, who studies the game like he's majoring in it. And in some ways, he is. Allen is trying to be the best, and he put a good notch on his résumé last season, when he collected three interceptions and returned two for touchdowns, one of only seven players nationally to do so. His 73 tackles also ranked third on the team, and he was named a second-team All-American by a couple of publications.

But the Daytona Beach native dreams big, and feels that his freshman season was only a start.

"I try to go as hard as I can every time I do something," he said. "I want to be the best in everything. I want to be the best overall."

That's where his work this summer comes to play. The undersized corner played at about 170 pounds last season, but still managed to often hold his own against bigger receivers. Recall the Michigan State game, which secondary coach Lou Anarumo says featured one of the best performances by a corner that he's seen, when Allen had nine tackles, the second of his Pick 6s in back-to-back weeks and two other pass breakups.

Now, Allen's added more than 10 pounds of muscle, which should help him both battle for balls in the air and help in run support. He's spent the last few weeks working out by himself at his Mainland High School weight room and on the football field, staying far away from the frequently troublesome street life that can be found in parts of Daytona.

He arrived back at Purdue on Friday, with one of his first orders of business being to gather up a couple of freshmen for a workout. They spent a couple hours throwing baseballs to each other, catching them barehanded, mimicking yet another workout regimen Allen had seen elsewhere.

"I don't want to just pick up where I left off, I want to be way higher than where I left off," he said. "I want to do better things than what I did. Everybody talks good about me, but then they also say there's a lack of size. I just want there to be positive notes, I don't want to there to be negative things about my game, no matter if it's my size or height or anything.

"I want to be the best cornerback in college."

Anarumo says Allen has natural ability, with good strength, speed and agility. But it's more than that, as well.

"The other thing is he has a great desire to be the best," the longtime Purdue DB coach said. "He wants the challenge, he wants to line up against the best players. He'll work as hard as anybody during the off-season. He's got the rare, these days, combination of want-to and ability."

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