For Citadel’s Dominique Allen, a long journey to starting QB

Dominique Allen (middle), shown here against Florida State last season, was named The Citadel’s starting quarterback this week. file/ap

Dominique Allen (middle), shown here against Florida State last season, was named The Citadel’s starting quarterback this week. file/ap

Jeff Hartsell:

In his first college football game, Dominique Allen threw a touchdown pass. On the road. Against No. 1 Florida State.

Afterward, someone asked him how it felt, and Allen’s eyes filled with tears. “It was the best feeling you could ever get,” Allen said that night. “It’s been a long road for me to get here, so it’s something I’ll never forget.”

Allen, a sophomore from Richmond Hill, Ga., has journeyed a little further down that road during The Citadel’s preseason practice. This week, the 6-1, 220-pounder was named the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback for their Sept. 5 season opener against Davidson.

It’s a role Allen seemed destined for that night in Tallahassee, when he threw a 10-yard TD pass to DeAndre Schoultz in a 37-12 loss to the top-ranked Seminoles. Allen, the plan went, would serve out the season as Aaron Miller’s backup and then take over the starting job in spring practice after Miller graduated.

Two weeks into spring practice last February, that plan seemed to be on track when Allen suffered a knee injury that ended his spring. Slotback Cam Jackson was moved to quarterback, and did well enough to force a competition for the starting job the last three weeks of preseason practice. “That was discouraging,” said Allen, who played in three games last season. “I felt I put in a solid two weeks in the spring and developed a good tempo with the team, so for that to happen was definitely discouraging.”

But Allen said the competition with Jackson the last three weeks made him better than he might have been otherwise. “It helped a lot,” he said. “All the reps, all the competition was good for all of us. It gets everyone in top shape to where we can perform at a high level.”

Ironically, Jackson’s ability at slotback — the 6-2, 195-pounder rushed for 505 yards and three touchdowns last season, averaging 8.9 yards per carry — gave Allen an edge in the QB battle. Having both players on the field will be a boon to the Bulldogs’ triple-option offense, coach Mike Houston said. “Two things,” Houston said when asked what swung the starting job to Allen. “Dom’s comfort level with the offense — being able to see what he needs to see quickly and to operate smoothly — was one factor. The other factor was that if Dom is at quarterback, Cam is at slotback, and that’s no small thing. Cam is a dynamic player.”

Allen’s journey to The Citadel also was a long one. After his career at Richmond Hill High School — where he was all-state and the Bryan County player of the year while overcoming a first knee injury — Allen committed to play at Air Force Academy But after a year at the Academy prep school, he decided he needed a change.

“Everyone thinks they are going to go big time when they are in high school,” Allen said. “Reality is, most kids don’t. At the Air Force prep school, it was not a full 11-game schedule like it is here, so that made it tough. “I was far away from home, and a few things didn’t work out for me. I just didn’t feel like there was a place for me there, so I needed a change.”

The Citadel had offered Allen a scholarship out of high school, and he ended up choosing between the Bulldogs and Houston’s former school, Lenoir-Rhyne. A military school makes sense for the son of two Marine master sergeants — his father James is still active military, while mother Tammie has retired and a sister is in the Air Force, stationed in Alaska. “It was definitely rough, with two strict parents,” Allen said. “They had set rules they went by at work, and it was the same at home. No different from here, really.”

Now, coach Houston wants to see Allen use that discipline to fulfill the potential that schools like Air Force saw in him. “He definitely has a lot of potential,” Houston said. “Potential is what Air Force saw in him coming out of high school, and now it’s up to him to transfer potential into production on the field. I think he’ll improve the more he plays, because the one thing he lacks is experience.”

Allen says he’s ready for the next step on his journey. “It’s a huge role I have on the team now,” he said. “The starting job is a privilege. I had to work hard for it, and I still feel like I have to compete every day for the spot. Nothing is guaranteed to you.”

Houston said he expects a trio of freshmen — Kevin Graham, Ken Allen and Aron Spann — to contribute a lot on defense. Graham is a 6-1, 265-pound defensive end, Allen a 6-1, 275-pound lineman and Spann a 6-2, 215-pound defensive back. “We’re seeing some really good things from the young kids,” Houston said. “I expect those three guys to play a lot this year, and to be very good players before the year is over. They’ve never played a college snap, so we’ll see what happens when the lights come on. But I’ve been pleased with how they’ve fit in.”

After missing some time with a stinger, junior center Ryan Bednar has returned to action and bolstered the offensive line, where freshman Tyler Davis and senior guard Sam Frye had been working a lot at center. “We’ve looked much better this week with Ryan out there, so that’s been good for the offense,” Houston said.

At fullback, Houston said freshman Evan McField from Goose Creek High is on top of the depth chart now, but the battle is not over.


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