From Gainesville to Oxford

Will Allen is one of a host of young, talented baseball players who are in the Ole Miss program or headed that way. The Gainesville, Fla., native has found some playing time and works for more.

"It's always great to play," said the 6-foot-3, 210-pound catcher/first baseman. "Obviously that's why I'm here. You just try to play the best you can whenever you get your chances. We've got a lot of older guys at both my positions. Obviously all of them are doing pretty well. Just try to hang in there and learn some stuff from them and keep working hard."

Allen, like all successful players of this era, has played a lot of baseball in his nearly 19 years (his birthday is March 25). But there is still an adjustment to the Division I level.

"Just the pace of the game. Everything's a lot quicker," said the Buchholz High School product who was first-team All-State in Florida's Class 6A as a junior and again as a senior. "Just relaying signs, picking up pitches, trying to adjust to breaking balls, stuff like that. It's basically the same game I've been playing my whole life. So I try not to get too overwhelmed with it."

A catcher by trade, there are a couple of veterans in the mix, along with Allen, in Miles Hamblin and Taylor Hightower. At first base, the opportunity for playing time has presented itself a bit more since Matt Snyder was injured and Matt Smith had a sore forearm situation two weeks ago. Allen got a chance to start at first twice in Houston and once against Austin Peay last week. He's played in two other games so far.

"I'm getting there. I'm learning," he said of playing first. "I played first base my sophomore year of high school. Obviously in high school, all it is is run over there and catch the ball. Here it's a little bit more complex with the pick off signs, playing back, and bunt coverages. But I'm learning.

"I've got Matt Smith over there teaching me, so I get to learn something new every day, which is obviously a good thing. Coaches are working with me. Coach (Kirk) McConnell's been working with me on ground balls, covering first base, picks, stuff like that. So I'm definitely staying busy over there."

Allen continues to talk about the mix of playing a rigorous, high-profile baseball schedule as a youth and in high school and bringing that to the collegiate level at Ole Miss.

"It's an adjustment," he said. "The pace of the game, the way the pitchers pitch, certain counts and stuff. Since going into my junior year (of high school), I've faced some of the top pitchers and some guys that have gotten drafted and gone on to pro ball. Every pitcher you face here is good, so you just have to keep adjusting and do whatever you can against them. It's the same game, so it's not too bad."

Allen played summer baseball for the Orlando Scorpions, a program that has become nearly a feeder situation for Ole Miss. Several current Rebels and future Rebs are a part of the Scorpions.

Allen was the trailblazer for the talented group.

"We were playing summer ball and I was starting to get some general recruiting stuff, some e-mails," Allen said of his path from central Florida to Ole Miss, which started with just a letter. "I said alright I'll go check it out. I came up here during the Alabama series and Ole Miss won in extra innings. I was just like, wow, this atmosphere is pretty crazy. By the time I left my unofficial visit, I was like I definitely want to come here. The funny thing was my dad said, well they've kind of got to ask you to come first."

Allen grew up in Gainesville, Fla.
Courtesy: Bruce Newman
That happened in short order.

"So I went home, I got the call, and started talking about it," Allen continued. "It took me just a few days to go ahead and accept the offer."

Then the names of current and future Rebels with the Scorpions, which have become familiar to many, started to pop up.

"By the time I did that, I had already told Casey (Mulholland) I was going here," Allen said. "He was saying he was interested. I was like it would be pretty fun, so why don't you go up there with me? So he was thinking about it, and then he told me he was coming.

"Coach (Carl) Lafferty was over there watching us play in Florida. He asked me about a shortstop, Austin Anderson. I told him I thought he was committed to North Florida. So I went to Austin and said, you sure you want to go (to North Florida)? I was like you can come with me and Casey. He said, alright I'll take a look at it. By the time he left his unofficial visit (to Ole Miss), he was like I'm coming there. And I said, you want to room together? So that's kind of the way it all started.

"I guess that opened up the pipeline for (current UM signees) Sikes Orvis and Auston Bousfield and all those guys. It's a pretty good team out there (in Orlando)." Allen said, stating the obvious for sure.

Allen's bio reads as you would expect. It's impressive.

In addition to his first-team All-State picks in 2009 and 2010, he was named third-team All-State for Class 6A as a sophomore in 2008. He was the Gainesville Sun Player of the Year in 2010. He was a third-team All-America selection by Perfect Game in 2009 and was selected for All-America honors by MaxPreps in 2009. He was named the National Player of the Week by ESPN in March of 2008.

In addition to his time with the Scorpions, Allen played with Dulin's Dodgers of Memphis, Tenn., one summer and hit .490 with eight home runs and 11 doubles in 29 games. He was drafted in the 37th round of the 2010 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates

So how did a Florida Gator from the capital of Gator Nation turn his attention to Ole Miss? The above answers most of that, but there is more.

"It wasn't too bad," Allen said of choosing the Rebels over an in-state team or the hometown team, currently ranked No. 1 in the country by some baseball polls. "My dad (Bill) played football for the Gators. He was (living) in Gainesville, and he decided to go there and play. He told me it was my decision as to whether I wanted to come (to Ole Miss) or not. But he definitely thought there were some advantages to going out of state and going away from home for college. So I just kind of took that advice.

"Most of my friends go to Florida or a community college near there. Obviously a lot of my friends wanted me to go to Florida. But in the end it's my decision and what's best for me.

"In the end I picked Ole Miss. So far, it's been the right decision."

That goes for Allen, the Scorpion trailblazer, and for Ole Miss, the recipient of his important decision.

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