Marek Warszawski

In short time, Firebaugh’s Josh Allen has become rosy-cheeked face of Mountain West

Josh Allen wants to set the record straight: No matter what Wyoming coach Craig Bohl says, the 21-year-old quarterback does, in fact, shave.

“I’ve got some stubble going on,” Allen said Wednesday while rubbing his rosy cheeks and glancing across the room in Bohl’s direction. “I have shaved, for the record. Don’t listen to that man over there.”

A year ago, the Firebaugh native wasn’t even invited to the Mountain West Football Media Summit at the Cosmopolitan. Outside the central San Joaquin Valley and Laramie, Wyo., few knew Allen even existed.

Fast forward 12 months and Allen has become the most talked-about player in the conference – and by no razor-thin margin.

One year after leading Wyoming to an 8-6 record and a surprise appearance in the MW championship game, Allen enters 2017 on everyone’s radar.

Besides being named MW preseason offensive player of the year, Allen is being touted as a high first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and has received a slew of national media attention including a five-page article in Sports Illustrated.

Not bad for a guy who only recently started to shave.

“I still don’t believe he shaves,” Bohl joked. “Josh has got a girlfriend now. Maybe he’s trying to impress her.”

“I definitely shave now – (Bohl’s) been saying that line for a few years,” Allen corrected. “He could’ve gotten away with it last year, but I’m not letting him this year.”

Allen won’t be getting away with much this season, either.

Every pass he throws, every decision he makes will be under the magnifying glass. Not only by Wyoming’s opponents, but also by a cadre of NFL scouts who will scrutinize his every move.

Allen’s days of anonymity are over. These days, the 6-foot-5, 233-pounder walks around with a giant target on his back.

“I try to pay as little attention to that stuff as possible,” he said. “Hanging out with teammates. Just being a college kid. It’s hard to ignore it all. Twitter, every time someone tags me. Agents are calling me. But I’m focused on winning games for the Wyoming Cowboys.”

How Allen ended up at Wyoming is a story in itself, one that has previously been told. The abridged version: The Cowboys were extremely fortunate, and Fresno State (the school Allen grew up rooting for) completely dropped the ball.

Could you imagine the Bulldogs going from Derek Carr to Allen? There’s no bigger reason why Tim DeRuyter is no longer Fresno State’s head coach.

But that’s ancient history now. Allen has thoroughly enjoyed his time in Laramie – the small-town feel reminds him of Firebaugh – and helping put the Cowboys on the national radar.

“For me the best part is people focusing more on the University of Wyoming and the program we have,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade my teammates or coaches for the world.”

Allen’s coaches and teammates wouldn’t trade him, either.

Strong safety Andrew Wingard said he was crossing “all” his fingers Allen would return to Wyoming for his junior year after he flirted with an early jump to the NFL.

“We’re just happy to have him back, not only as a player but as a friend,” Wingard said. “We’re a close-knit team and to have him back for one more semester is really great.”

Added Bohl, “We’re going to ride that pony as far as we can.”

Certainly, Allen’s return greatly enhances Wyoming’s chances in the rugged Mountain Division.

But despite Allen and Wingard, the MW preseason defensive player of the year, the Cowboys were still picked to finish third in the division behind Boise State and Colorado State.

“We were picked last and played in the title game last year,” Allen said. “It doesn’t bother me one bit. Up to us to prove people wrong.”

No matter how far from home Allen ventures, no matter what NFL city becomes his future home, Firebaugh is never far from his thoughts.

Allen goes home as often as possible. (His girlfriend, Brittany Williams, is the captain of Fresno State’s dance team.) During his last visit, Allen participated in a football camp for special-needs kids organized by a former high school coach.

“Everybody knows everybody there, and when people see me in town they make sure they come over and tell me how much they’re supporting me,” Allen said. “It means a lot to me to have that.

“I have a lot of love for that town, a lot of love for the people who live there and I know they’ve got my back.”

In a short time, Allen has become one of the most recognizable faces in Firebaugh, Laramie and throughout the MW.

At some point very soon he’ll be the face of an NFL franchise, too.

Nearly impossible for Allen to be anonymous anymore. That is, unless he grows a beard.

Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee

Josh Allen file

Vitals: 6-5, 233 pounds, junior

2016: 3,203 passing yards, 28 TDs

Hometown: Firebaugh

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