When St. Thomas Aquinas quarterback Jake Allen committed to Florida last Wednesday, I wrote about it in glowing terms — "This is potentially seismic for the program," I asserted.
Here are the four major reasons why.
Allen's a good player with room to grow
The basic evaluation of any commitment should be what the player committing can do on the field. With Allen, we know only early returns — he split time as a sophomore at Cardinal Gibbons High School, and he's playing with Gibbons in the highlights below — but we do know that they're promising.
On tape, Allen looks to have a good arm — his first throw is a rope to a spot where only his receiver can catch it on a 15-yard out to the far side of the field, which is essentially the throw that distinguishes NFL-caliber quarterbacks from weaker ones — with better touch, enough functional mobility to move the pocket and make plays, and a penchant for standing tall and making throws that lead receivers. Obviously, these are selected highlights, not full games, but Allen looks good in them.
And the one critique I've seen of those highlights here and elsewhere, that he seems to lock on to receivers, can likely be explained by being in a spread offense with one-read plays (he's supposed to lock on rather than reading the field on some of these plays), and by Leroy Henley, a four-star 2017 wide receiver offered by Florida in June, being the guy wearing No. 9 for Cardinal Gibbons in the highlights. You'd throw to that guy a lot, too.
Allen's also been better, and noticeably so, since last fall. After beginning the spring with offers from just Rutgers and Florida Atlantic, somehow, he hit the camp circuit hard for the first time late this spring, which is how he got his game-changing Florida offer, and he's been dropping dimes on it.
Allen won the first Rivals Quarterback Challenge in June, defeating a roster of good-to-very good 2016 and 2017 QBs. (You can watch the same seven throws over and over from the finals of the event here, and some better video if you're a Rivals subscriber.)
He also pretty clearly impressed the Rivals folks in attendance while he was there. He was named the event's top performer on Saturday...
When talking about the most complete quarterback we saw on Saturday, Allen's name goes to the top of the list. It is easy to see why the rising junior has compiled an offer list that exceeds 10 schools already. At 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds Allen has decent, but not great, size for the position. The ball jumps off his hand, though, and he accurate throwing from the pocket. The area of his game he will need to work on his footwork when on the move.
...and then again on Sunday, after winning it.
Allen faced a tiebreaker with Chase Brice to take home the inaugural Accurate Arm award, and responded with a series of clutch throws to win "Q-B-C," a football version of "H-O-R-S-E," that was used to break the deadlock. It did not look like Allen would be in the discussion for the top spot after finishing the first round in sixth place, but he started the second round strong by hitting two pockets throwing to the hitch to start the second stanza. The rollout throws hurt Allen in the first round, but he was excellent in all the throws that were standard dropbacks.
After that performance, and his commitment, Rivals honcho Mike Farrell was all but apologizing for Rivals still rating Allen as a three-star prospect; he's now a four-star prospect, and one of the top 50 players in the 2017 class, according to the service. And can a 16-year-old improve on his ability to throw on the run? Yeah, I think so. Allen's already good (and apparently clutch) enough to make good throws under the "pressure" of competition and the scrutiny of evaluators, and there's both so much he can still improve on, and so much time for him to do so. That's promising.
Allen seems charismatic, and will recruit hard
Perhaps even more promising: Allen seems like the captain of the ship.
I'm gonna call what's about to happen the next few months the #GatorCoalition— Jake Allen™ (@Jakeallen_14) July 7, 2015
A quarterback usually becomes the fulcrum of a team's recruiting class because of the position's importance in football and the reliance of other players on the quarterback: Virtually every wide receiver envisions himself playing with the quarterback, but the quarterback just is the quarterback. That is often part of why established big-time QBs enable schools to land bumper crops of wide receivers for example: Jameis Winston as the guy throwing passes in Tallahassee was certainly a lure for Ja'Vonn Harrison, Ermon Lane, and Travis Rudolph in 2014, and Johnny Manziel helped Texas A&M lure a slew of pass-catchers in 2013.
But those players are in college, and generally just lures for the year or two their careers might overlap with an incoming recruit. A quarterback like Allen can recruit by tellng a target like, say, Miami commit and St. Thomas Aquinas teammate Sam Bruce that he will be throwing to him for two or three years in college.
Of course, the "like" is unnecessary here: Wooing Bruce is literally what Allen is doing.
Good luck to my current WR and future WR at UF at the opening this week! BALL OUT BRO . Gator Nation show him love! @_QUICK6— Jake Allen™ (@Jakeallen_14) July 6, 2015
I don't put too much stock in what 16-year-olds say to each other on social media, as a general rule, but Allen seems more than willing to play the part of lead amateur recruiter for Florida, and he's going to do it for nearly two years. As long as he improves as a player and as a leader — both likely, I'd say — having him waving an orange and blue flag will be a very good thing.
Allen gives Florida momentum by giving fans hope
Allen is a shot in the arm for Florida's recruiting in the 2017 class, obviously, but if he can be part of why Bruce or other players commit to the Gators in the 2016 class, he'll provide more immediate benefits. Moreover, though, Allen committing now and not later gives Florida the glow of having a big-time quarterback committed despite not adding any high school recruits since National Signing Day in 2014, when Treon Harris flipped from Florida State.
Florida's in a pickle when it comes to recruiting quarterbacks from the 2016 cycle, still, and it has actually gotten worse, not better, since Dwayne Haskins commited to Maryland in May: Florida legacy Rex Culpepper, the son of former Florida defensive lineman Brad, committed to Syracuse in June, depriving the Gators of what could've been one of the more straightforward recruitments of a quarterback for this cycle. Most of the truly elite passers are off the board now, and while Florida seems likely to duel Arizona State and Houston for Dillon Sterling-Cole, who visited Gainesville in June, the Gators will have to land him, flip a committed quarterback (LSU commit Feleipe Franks is the most logical target), or cultivate a relationship with a player who hasn't been on the radar.
That's not a particularly good situation for Florida, especially with the possibility that Florida would be down to just the winner of the Will Grier-Harris quarterback derby and well-traveled walk-on Luke Del Rio in 2016, should the loser of the quarterback derby transfer. But it doesn't feel like that to some fans, surely.
After all: "We just got Jake Allen."
This is the power of a great quarterback committing: The hope for a bright future attached to "We got X!" when X is a 16-year-old high schooler who hasn't begun his junior year can still somehow outweigh more pressing concerns in the present. Allen gives hope to a fan base that has craved it, and all he has to do to sustain that hope is live his life and get better at his future job.
Florida gets to plan for the future
With apologies for once again referencing Florida State in a positive light: The Seminoles have set the gold standard in quarterback recruiting. First-rounder Christian Ponder begat first-rounder EJ Manuel begat No. 1 pick/Heisman winner/national champion/lightning rod Winston, and so the 'Noles have been able to have their ducks in a row for quite some time. FSU snagged J.J. Cosentino, De'Andre Johnson, and Deondre Francois in recent years, and has built up enough depth that it has absorbed the transfer of Jacob Coker, late-cycle flips by Harris and Kai Locksley, and now the dismissal of Johnson with little to no stress, and has enough cachet that it was able to bring in Everett Golson, a quarterback who started in a national title game, as a one-year rental.
What's more, Florida State has had a commitment from its quarterback of the future, 2016 stud Malik Henry, whose "recurring attitude and maturity issues" led to his departure from Bradenton's IMG Academy this spring, since November 2014. Between listing Golson, Sean Maguire, Cosentino, and Francois on the roster, and having Henry, who has the talent to be a three-year starter, in the pipeline, FSU doesn't really need a top-flight quarterback in 2017.
And so Jimbo Fisher's merry band is setting its sights on 2018 quarterback Joey Gatewood, who could commit to the program as soon as this summer, just under 30 months from his enrollment or National Signing Day. A lot can change with that much space between (anticipated) commitment and enrollment, much less seeing the field — Johnson committed in July 2012, and got recruited over twice (Francois and Locksley were both higher-rated) and saw Winston's entire playing career elapse in the span between his commitment and his enrollment, and he's obviously vaporized his FSU career just months after it began by being a moron — but Johnson (and Winston) helped put FSU in position to focus on Cosentino and expand its board for the 2015 class, and Henry is putting FSU in position to focus on Gatewood.
These early commits, especially ones who aren't phased by the prospect of competition, give programs flexibility, and Florida isn't a stranger to them. Cam Newton committing before the end of the summer in 2006 — before Tim Tebow had seen the field in a regular-season game — gave the Gators the flexibility to go hard after then-Texas commit John Brantley later that cycle. Jeff Driskel committing to Urban Meyer gave Will Muschamp an early enrollee ace in the hole and a backup plan should its eleventh-hour pursuit of Jacoby Brissett not have been successful. And Grier committed long before Harris, and having both of them made it easier to sell developmental prospect Sheriron Jones on being Florida's man in the 2015 class before that plan got smithereened by Florida's self-destructive 2014 season.
It is better, with a commodity as precious as quarterbacks are in college football, to have quality and quantity and the time to decide whether getting more of or a different kind of the commodity is necessary. And Allen committing, and doing so now instead of later, allows Florida to do that: He may yet be the future at quarterback for the Gators, but he also allows the program and its fans to start seeing to a future, and that's crucial in a sport where next year can always be a team's best year.