Last year, Armando Allen rushed for 348 yards on 86 carries. For most players, that would be a pretty successful season, considering the Opa Locka, Fla. native was splitting time with two other young, talented backs. Allen, though, looked at his freshman campaign a different way.
"When you look at it as a team, I wasn't happy, obviously, with the outcome of the season and that's basically what I look at," he said. "I feel like if we didn't do good as a team then I didn't do good."
Allen was also affected early in the season by an ankle injury that cost him his senior season at Hialeah-Miami Lakes High school. He said that, while the injury was pestering him at the beginning of the year, he felt better by midseason.
"At the beginning of the season it was an injury that was really nagging me," he said. "But by the middle of the season it kind of went away. You can tell the difference in how I was performing on the field."
That difference should be magnified next season, as Allen said that his ankle is now 100 percent healed. Irish fans should look forward to seeing him return to the player that clocked a 4.38 40-yard dash time the 2006 U.S. Army All-American Bowl combine.
"My strongest improvement is that finally my ankle is healed," Allen said. "Being able to cut and play on the field without thinking about my injury is something that's been real beneficial to me."
In addition to regaining his quickness, the '06 All-American Bowl MVP has been hitting the weights hard this offseason, gaining eight pounds since the end of the season. Allen also said that he's been working hard to improve himself mentally.
"[I've] just been going through the playbook, learning the plays, so when I get out on the field I mentally already have set what I need to do," he said.
That desire to master the cerebral part of the game has carried over to the spring, and Allen set that as one of his main goals for these practices.
"Most importantly for me is being able to walk away from this spring knowing that I really know what's going on on the field," he said. "I [want to] know all the plays and know exactly what I'm supposed to be doing with them on the field. That's what I'm looking for in the spring."
While some players may need to be pushed by the coaches to work hard in the doldrums of winter, the motivation of simply not wanting to go 3-9 again was enough for the rising sophomore.
"That's enough motivation to do whatever it is you want to do," Allen said of last season. "You don't want to be in that predicament anymore, so just thinking about how the season ended last year was enough motivation for me."
The desire to improve on last years record is evident in this spring's practices, Allen said. Much has been made about head coach Charlie Weis holding more physical practices this spring as opposed to last year, and Allen said that change is definitely evident.
"I think after experiencing what we experienced last year, and then coming out to this spring, everybody kind of got a different approach," he said. "Nobody on the team wants to experience that again."
This spring, Allen has been splitting carries with junior James Aldridge and sophomore Robert Hughes. On the pre-spring depth chart, Allen is listed, with Hughes, as second-string, behind Aldridge. He said that, so far though, there's been no set rotation to the running back position.
"These past couple of days have been basically the same," Allen said. "[We're] going out there with no specific rotation, just going out there, practicing hard and just doing whatever [Weis] asks us to do."
The head coach echoed Allen, saying that there is a definite chance for each guy to move up or down.
"They'll all play," Weis said. "I think they'll dictate how much they play. James won't be stagnant now, because those two young guys are very, very, very good. It's one of the positions on the team where you've got three guys you could put out there and feel very confident that you're putting a top-flight player out there."
And just what has Weis been looking for to determine who gets playing time?
"I'm just watching," he said. "I'm watching blitz pickup, I'm watching run reads, I'm watching routes, I'm watching their hands, I'm watching their knowledge, I'm watching for mental errors. It's all encompassing. I'm looking at everything they do."
That isn't worrying Allen, though, who said that the three are close friends off the field. Last Monday night, for example, they went to Chili's as a unit for dinner.
"Honestly we really have a really close relationship," Allen said. "We kind of look at each other like brothers. That's on and off the field. So whenever we have a problem, we know that [we've] got each other's backs."
Their personalities compliment each other off the field, and their playing styles compliment one another on it. Allen is more of a prototypical speed back, Hughes is a bigger runner, and Aldridge is in between the two. That combination of size and speed could cause opposing defenses problems next year.
"I joke about it a lot because we don't like to look at each other as separate running backs," Allen said. "We look at all three of us as just one running back."
Such selflessness is rare for a young player, but Allen isn't a player who is only playing for personal gain. He wants to do anything he can to help the Irish succeed in ‘08, whether it be as a running back or as a kick returner, where he is listed first on the depth chart this spring. Last year, Allen returned 33 kicks for 704 yards, and led the team in all-purpose yardage.
"To be honest with you, I just see my role as whatever coach Weis wants me to do," Allen said. "That's what my role is going to be. Whatever he sets up for me to do, that's what I'm going to step up and do."
Many players set personal goals before the season, such as a certain number of yards or certain amount of playing time. Allen's target is simple.
"My personal goal is just to do whatever I can to help the team, and put the team in the best situation to win."
Helping the Team
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