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It doesn’t seem to faze Braelon Allen the same way it does people outside the University of Wisconsin football program.

Allen, who’s 17 years old, should be leading the Fond du Lac High School football team into the WIAA playoffs this weekend as a star on both sides of the ball. The tailback instead has become arguably the most impactful player on the Badgers’ offense over the past two weeks.

“I didn’t know how quickly I was going to pick up the playbook, pick up the speed of the game or anything like that,” Allen said this week. “I was confident that when I got my shot that I was going to make an impact, but probably not this early. So it’s cool to see it all happening.”

The reigning Big Ten Conference Freshman of the Week has put together back-to-back games with more than 100 yards rushing and he likely will need a third on Saturday at No. 25 Purdue (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) to keep UW (3-3, 1-2) on track after two consecutive wins.

This is a big moment for the Badgers, who have a chance to resurrect what once appeared to be a lost season. It’s also a big moment for Allen, whose raw physical tools have allowed him to contribute while still learning the intricacies of being a running back. His size, strength and power often are marveled at, but they’ve served an important role in him being ready to handle what’s become essentially a 50-50 workload split in the backfield with junior Chez Mellusi.

“It doesn’t matter how much older these guys are,” Allen said, “I know they’re not stronger than me.”

Allen is up to 289 yards and three touchdowns on 46 carries, and his 6.3 yards per carry leads UW’s active running backs.

These are the moments Allen wanted to be in when he chose to reclassify from the 2022 class and enroll at UW this fall. He said he was simply over high school, and he embraced the idea of completing a mountain of schoolwork this spring and summer on top of his high-level physical training to be able to join the Badgers this season.

The jump to college, his growing role and the increasing attention paid to him haven’t seemed to affect him. The way he views it, this is what he asked for.

“I think (he) certainly came in with intentions of, and the confidence maybe that, ‘I can help this. I’m here to play,’” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “And yet humble enough to do all that he has to — how to learn and listening to other players.

“It’s been impressive how he’s kind of handled everything and he’s been consistent through it. That’s a good starting point. He’s got a hunger about him, but he’s got a humbleness. I think that’s a good blend.”

Joining the brotherhood

Melvin Gordon remembers when he first connected with Allen over Instagram. The Badgers’ fourth-leading rusher in program history and the starting running back for the Denver Broncos told Allen he was now in the club.

“I just kind of told him like, ‘Hey, man, we’re a brotherhood there. Any time you want to talk or anything or need advice towards anything, bro, I’m here to speak to you. I want you to get to where I’m at,’” Gordon said.

They spoke before training camp about how Allen should approach his first college camp. The pillars of Gordon’s advice were for Allen to work as hard as he could and to play fast.

“He’s been a role model for me ever since I started getting into football,” Allen said about Gordon. “That’s not a guy you want to disappoint. I’ve got to carry on the tradition of ‘RB U’, and I think I could do that.”

The pair share somewhat of a common history. Both are Wisconsin natives who had considerable hype behind them before they arrived in Madison. On top of reclassifying, Allen’s recruiting journey went from standout safety to projected linebacker to powerful ball carrier in less than a year, adding even more intrigue to his potential at UW.

Gordon didn’t have those positional questions coming out of Kenosha because he was one of the nation’s top running backs. But he does remember thinking about his family, his friends and what people expected before his first game in a Badgers uniform.

“Football is hard enough in itself to worry about other people’s expectations,” Gordon said. “I hope that’s not the case for him. … I hope when he’s out there he’s just thinking about what he can do to help make the team better.”

Gordon, who’s in his seventh NFL season and second in Denver, said he hasn’t been able to watch much of UW’s season thus far, but he catches the highlights when he can. He had a similar relationship that he’s building with Allen with another UW star rusher, Jonathan Taylor. He’d catch up with Taylor from time to time, offering thoughts when he believed his experience could provide an example to draw upon.

“Everybody has their own path, so what might work for me might not work for JT, might not work for Braelon,” Gordon said. “But you know, the overall goal is to get to the next level. I can help them out as much as I can to lead them in the right direction.”

Allen has said that he takes cues from bigger backs like Gordon and Tennessee Titans tailback Derrick Henry, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2015 at Alabama. At 6-foot-2 and 238 pounds, Allen knows his blend of size, speed and power can be dangerous if he uses it properly. Having the coaching of Gary Brown, who coached Ezekiel Elliott with the Dallas Cowboys, also provides a path to success.

“Obviously I want to go to the NFL, but I don’t just want to be some fifth-round, fourth-round pick,” Allen said. “I want to be a first-round pick, top 10. He’s the guy that I can ask for advice. And let me know what I need to work on to put myself in that position, in that spot.”

Humble approach

Allen hasn’t limited his sources of inspiration or guidance to outside of the UW facility. His willingness to ask questions helped get him up to speed with the offense quickly, reminiscent of how Chimere Dike rose up the ranks in the wide receiver room a year ago by asking questions and applying those answers to the practice field.

Allen sought out veterans such as senior fullback John Chenal and junior running back Brady Schipper to learn the playbook and pass protection schemes UW employs.

“He’s someone that asks a question, maybe about a mistake he made, and then he corrects that mistake,” Chenal said. “You’re not going to see him making the same mistake over and over again. So that’s something that I really admire about him and his work ethic. It’s just showing how much he’s grown in such a small amount of time, even during the season, like before our eyes, from Illinois to last game we played against Army. He’s grown and just little things, really happy that he keeps building and taking one step at a time.”

He found a sounding board in Mellusi for guidance on the finer points of his position, such as learning how to read blocks, what to study about a defense at the college level and more.

Mellusi was in Allen’s shoes when he was a 17-year-old freshman and the youngest player on the team at Clemson. Mellusi believes when Allen dials in certain aspects, such as running with a forward lean so defenders can’t hit Allen’s chest or attack the ball as easily, Allen will become more effective and harder to tackle.

“He’s a natural football player,” Mellusi said. “I think the world has already kind of seen he’s pretty damn good.”

When Allen’s needed a shot of confidence as he got used to college football or embraced his new role, he’s found it in redshirt sophomore quarterback Graham Mertz. Mertz’s self-belief is unwavering, regardless of the game’s outcome, and the pair talk weekly about the game plan and opportunities for Allen to cut it loose and run like the Badgers know he can.

UW defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard insists Allen one day will be playing on his side of the ball. As heavily as Leonhard was involved in Allen’s recruitment, he’s not surprised that Allen’s made the quick impact he has and how he’s positioned himself as a crucial piece of the offense for the second half of the season.

“We all know the physical tools that he has, but emotionally, same guy every day,” Leonhard said. “Just comes in, knows he has high goals and just comes and works and keeps his mouth shut and just powers forward. You love the approach that he has. He’s a little bit wise beyond his years to just put his head down and just get to work.

“He’s still going to find a way to play some defense, don’t worry. We’ll steal him back at some point. Just doing a great job and he’s a tone-setter. There’s no question about that. You see the physicality and you see any time you get a big back like that, you see an O-line just kind of get a different look in their eye knowing that, ‘All right, let’s give him some space, get him rolling downhill.’ It’s fun to watch.”


This article originally ran on madison.com.

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