How Josh Allen's perseverance earned him a spot in the NFL

By Kailey Harmon | Posted 5/23/2018

(photo via

“Hello coach, my name is Josh Allen and I am a quarterback at Reedley JC out of California. I stand at 6’5” 210 lbs and am a full qualifier, and feel like I would be a great fit in your offensive scheme.”

One thousand times this salutation was typed by an athlete with unrecognized raw talent. In April the Buffalo Bills selected him as the seventh overall pick in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.

At the end of last year’s 2017 NFL Draft, ESPN reporter Adam Schefter called out Josh Allen to be the No. 1 pick in the first round of the 2018 draft. Allen told ESPN it was likely most of their viewers didn’t recognize his name.

"Probably 90 percent of America," Allen told "That's kind of been my M.O. my entire football career."

Growing up in a small farming town roughly 20 miles from the nearest freeway, it’s not hard to see why most of the country was pondering the name. Firebaugh is just 40 miles west of Fresno, California – the location of Allen’s childhood dream school, Fresno State. His heart was set on playing quarterback for the Bulldogs since his days in Pop Warner, according to coach Chauncey Lee.

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"This kid was dying to play there. The parents probably would have paid his tuition. He didn't even need a scholarship," Lee told the Buffalo News.

The Allen family would attend games and tailgates regularly as Josh grew up. Allen also attended football camps put on by Fresno State. Bill Magnusson, Allen’s coach at Firebaugh High School, attended a passing camp with him one year. The Bulldogs’ coaches divided the quarterbacks into two obscure groups: The ones they’re looking for and the ones they’re not.

It might not have been clear to the other players, but it was clear to Allen that he was in the undesirable group.

"In my head, I'm going, 'What are they missing?' I know he was small compared to some of the other guys, but the kid didn't have a hair on his face, and he's throwing 65-yard bullets. You probably ought to take a look at him." Magnusson argued.

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Still, Fresno State’s head coach at the time, Tim DeRuyter, didn’t believe Allen would bring anything significant to his program. It was a devastating blow to Allen’s childhood dream.

DeRuyter wasn’t alone in denying Allen’s abilities. After graduating high school, Allen didn’t receive a single offer from any four-year colleges. It was another disappointment in his path. With no intention of giving up, Allen went off to Reedley College to play in a junior college division, where he would not start until the fifth game of the season.

Junior college was a time of growth for Allen, both in football and stature. In his only season with Reedley, he garnered 2,055 yards and 26 touchdowns with only five interceptions. He also ran for 660 yards and 10 touchdowns.

RC’s offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at the time, Ernie Rodriguez, said if Allen had stayed for a second season, NCAA Division I schools would be fighting over him because he would be the best junior college quarterback in the country.  

"But Josh was adamant. He had a chip on his shoulder. He wanted to prove everyone wrong who doubted him. He just wanted to get to the next level immediately." Rodriguez said.

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At the end of the season, Allen glued himself to a computer and fired away, emailing every FBS coach in the country with the same message: Give me a chance. He included a link to his highlight tape and waited patiently.

Responses were weak. San Diego State told Allen he could walk on. Wyoming extended an offer only after Oregon high schooler, Eric Dungey, turned it down first to play for Syracuse. Eastern Michigan’s offer was revoked after they found out Allen visited Wyoming first.

It might not have been how he planned, but it was one more offer than he’d received out of high school. He headed to Wyoming at 6-5, 210-pounds, a far cry from his 6-1, 180-pound frame as a senior in high school.

"He was this scrawny kid," Allen's mother, LaVonne, said. "We thought he was maybe done because of his size, and he comes back from Reedley looking like he grew three inches."

It wouldn’t stop there, either. Allen weighed in at the NFL Scouting Combine at 237 pounds and measured 6-foot-5, making him the tallest and heaviest quarterback in his class.

In Wyoming’s season opener, starting quarterback Cameron Cauffman injured his knee and gave Allen a chance as starting quarterback in the second game against a familiar opponent – Eastern Michigan. The stars were aligned for Allen who’s only dream was to play D-I football.

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His moment was interrupted when he slammed into an Eagles’ safety on a carry. His collarbone suffered a severe break, and tears rolled down his cheeks. Not from the pain, but from the uncertainty of his football career. The only known fact was that he was out for the season.

Adversity greeted Allen at every turn, it seemed. But Allen’s perseverance never faulted.

"Whenever a door would close," LaVonne Allen said, "we would turn around and another door would open.

Facing rejection for years, the quarterback – who threw for 3,000 yards and 28 touchdowns last season – had to maintain a healthy perspective. A piece of advice from his high school coach always kept him in check.

”Don't take the field to prove doubters wrong,” Magnusson said. “Prove your supporters right.”