Neither was aware that the photo shoot would produce the cover for the Hawgs Illustrated summer football preview. The idea was to pair the two hometown heroes, no doubt the most valuable players for the 2015 Arkansas football team.
Allen is the fifth-year senior quarterback. Ellis, a true junior, will lead the Arkansas defense for the second straight season. Both hail from Fayetteville High School and have known each other for eight or nine years. The leadership skills with both are obvious.
“Maybe now,” said Allen, team captain the last two years. “But I had to grow into that. I don’t think I was a natural leader. But maybe I am now.
“For Brooks, I think it’s the way he plays and prepares. It’s natural for someone like that to lead and he was making the calls as the middle linebacker. So he was leading as a sophomore last year.
“It’s kind of cool that we we grew up a few miles apart and we are those guys for the team now, two hometown boys. Pretty cool. I don’t think it happens this way very often.”
Ellis first recalls heading over to the Allen home when he played on the junior high team at Woodland, with Austin, Brandon’s younger brother. Ellis was a frequent visitor in the Barrington sub division where there were regular basketball games.
“Me and Austin were friends starting in the seventh grade,” Brooks said. “But I remember maybe in the eight grade starting to go over to their home a lot.”
Brandon Allen said basketball games broke out in a hurry.
“We’d play four on four, three on three,” Brandon said. “Whatever the numbers allowed. I loved it because they weren’t very good. We beat them up pretty good. Brooks was pretty average size. The older guys could beat up on Brooks and Austin.”
Brandon pointed to Ellis and said, “Look at him now, those shoulders are massive. I can remember when Brooks just blew up as an athlete, in the 10th grade. He became a freak. I think he’s going to play at about 250 and he really doesn’t look that big. He’s got the frame to carry even more. He still looks skinny.”
There’s no beating up on Ellis now. Allen said he is never amazed when Ellis blows up a play. He did that over and over in the spring.
“He’s one of those guys who just does it so easily,” Allen said. “You don’t even notice it because it’s so routine. And, he doesn’t think much about it. It’s just him doing what he’s supposed to do. I don’t think he thinks he’s so good.
“I saw him split gaps in the spring and it’s just so easy for him. I think he’s just now realizing what he can do.”
Ellis shrugs those massive shoulders. He’d much rather talk about Allen than himself. He said he grew up admiring the older Allen’s huge talent and cool nature.
“That’s what I thought of him, just that he was so cool,” Ellis said. “He was the big-time quarterback going to Arkansas. But he treated the younger guys so well. I got to play with him one year, my sophomore year. He was already committed to Arkansas. I liked being around him a lot.
“I’d hung out with Austin for a number of years. It was cool that he’d hang out with me and his younger brother, but he did. It was pretty interesting back in the day to be over at their house.”
Ellis credits the Allen brothers for making sure he was a linebacker and not a quarterback, but notes his background as a winning signal caller.
“They called Austin up to the ninth grade team when we were in the eighth grader together,” Ellis said. “So they made me the eighth grade quarterback. I like to tell Austin and Brandon I was pretty good at quarterback, too. We went undefeated. I made some plays running and throwing. But when I got to ninth grade, it was obvious that I wasn't going to ever be a quarterback again.”
Ellis is perfectly content to toil at linebacker and let the Allen brothers star in the offense. He thinks the Hogs are in great hands. He marveled at the way the Hogs clicked on offense this spring. He would love to try his running skills with an interception, but said Brandon didn’t provide any chances.
“They were very good this spring,” Ellis said. “Brandon just keeps getting better.”
It’s clear that Allen has clicked with Dan Enos, the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. They both bubble when asked about the other. Enos said it was wonderful to inherit a fifth-year senior with experience in a variety of offenses. It made the spring installation a snap.
“We got a lot of the offense in, but we will do some different things in August,” Enos said. “I have high expectations for what Brandon can do with what we will add. I’m excited about what Brandon is going to become with these things.
”Brandon's biggest job is to join with Keon Hatcher and coach these your wide receivers. You've got Kendrick Edwards who was out this spring. He's learning the new things. He's got Dominique Reed going to get here for the second semester of summer school in a couple of weeks and then you add La'Michael Pettway and Deon Stewart. All of these guys are talented.
Obviously, head coach Bret Bielema and other staff members talked to Enos about Allen before and after he took the job as quarterbacks coach. What were expectations and did Allen meet them?
“He’s a lot of what I heard,” Enos said. “He’s tough, smart. You knew that he improved from one year to the next every time and so I expected more improvement again. It was all positives and I saw all of that from Brandon.
“That’s one of the things that was enticing in this job, Brandon Allen. When the job came open and I did some inquiries, Brandon’s name came up. That’s when I started to get excited and Brandon is all what Coach Bielema said he was.
"It was all of those things that Archie Manning talked about, too, the intangibles and leadership, when he called me to talk about Brandon going to the Manning Passing Academy this summer (as a counselor). Archie saw them. He said he's enjoyed watching Brandon develop and thinks he'll be great at their camp. That means a lot to us for Archie to talk about Brandon that way."
It was easy to see the talent in the game tapes that Enos found before taking the job. So ability was not what he discussed with Bielema and other staff members in the interview process.
“We really didn’t talk about physical tools,” Enos said. “We talked about the intangibles. There are lots of guys out there who can throw and run. What you want to know, do they have functional intelligence, can they make spontaneous decisions and do they have emotional stability.
“So what they were telling me was that he had all of that and the charismatic ability to grab the team and go compete. There are so many things that make a good quarterback. No one is perfect and has them all, but Brandon Allen possesses a lot of them. We will fine tune them as we go along. I have some things we will do in August to continue that process.”
Defensive coordinator Robb Smith talks about how the defense respects Allen, noting players were careful not to bump or hit their quarterback in practice sessions. Smith said he doubted Allen would have needed a green no contact jersey.
“I think Brandon has earned that kind of respect,” Enos said. “He played injured for his team. He played in pain and never made excuses to them. I know our team really likes Brandon.”
“I’m a big Brandon Allen fan,” Smith said. “So are our defensive players. We respect what he can do. We go against it every day because we are ones against ones. Our guys know what he means to our team. You can see in pass rush situations, no one is going to put him in harm’s way. We know what he is for our team.”
The velocity is up for Allen, Smith said.
“I think you can see that pretty easily,” he said. “I think you can see what Dan has done with him. And, I think you can see the overall touch that he’s had with the offense. You see what an offensive coordinator can do as far as putting pressure on us. And, it’s a special advantage for Dan to have a senior quarterback.”
Allen said it’s been a fun five months around Enos. There has been plenty of carry over from past years, including what the Hogs did in the first two years under Bielema.
“It’s a lot of the same, but a lot of new wrinkles,” Allen said. “Some of our run tags, tweaks here and there, are really going to help. I don’t think teams will be able to put nine or 10 in the box against us anymore. We have things to keep the defense honest.”
Some who watched the Hogs practice described the Enos scheme as a combination of West Coast and pro style. What would Allen call it?
“I think definitely pro, but there are some spread things, pro things, a little bit of everything,” he said. “I would just call it the Coach Enos offense. Yes, there are some West coast things. But maybe hybrid is the right word.
“We’ve got new passing game concepts, new routes. We looked at Central Michigan tape, his teams the last few years, to learn it. Every time we installed something, we’d get the Central Michigan tapes. I saw how quarterback reads, the receivers watched the routes.
“What I liked, we’d start with one play and learn it against different defenses. Then we’d keep building things off of it. That helped me and it helped the receivers.”
The summer will be a lot of work to polish the new stuff. One of the goals is to integrate junior college transfer Dominique Reed into the offense. Allen is excited about Reed’s speed and ability.
“I’ve watched him on tape,” Allen said. “He has the size and speed to make big plays. We are all excited for him to get here.
“We’ve got big plans for the summer. It’s going to be a lot of hard work, but fun. We’ll have our workouts with Coach (Ben) Herbert, then the practice with just the players.
“I’ll draw up the scripts and then I’ll talk to Brooks and get the defense to meet us. We’ll stay on top of everything.”
They won’t be playing in the Barrington neighborhood yards, but it will be a lot of what those two have been doing for a long time – except Brandon Allen won’t find it so easy to beat up on the opposition.
Dan Enos Evaluations of the Quarterbacks:
10 Brandon Allen (6-2, 210, Sr.) – “Brandon had an outstanding spring, was very accurate and picked up what we added quickly. I'm pleased with his focus, demeanor and he's a very good leader. He's very respected by his teammates. He's got good feet and delivery. He took a step forward. Now he needs a good summer and continued development. I think he'll just keep getting better.”
8 Austin Allen (6-1, 210, So.) – “He had a good spring. He was a bit inconsistent at times. But then there were times Austin would do something and you'd go, 'Wow! He's really good!' There were young mistakes at times. He's got good movement in the pocket and skills. He's a very smart player.”
9 Rafe Peavey (6-2, 203, Fr.) – “Very similar to Austin in that he was a bit inconsistent. At other times, Rafe performed very well, just not as consistent as you need at that position. He's got very good arm strength and good feet. He's just a young quarterback. He has to continue to develop the focus needed to grasp the overall offense. You can say that about Austin, Rafe and Ty.”
5 Ty Storey (6-3, 211, Fr.) – “He's got a very bright future. He's smart, tough and has a great work ethic. He has to develop and get stronger in the weight room. Again, he's got a very bright future.”