MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Fans and pundits will continue debating West Virginia quarterback Will Grier’s decision to sit out the Camping World Bowl, but at this point that’s of no matter to the Mountaineers themselves.
The future is now, and it is in the hands of backup-turned-presumptive starter Jack Allison. The 6-foot-6 sophomore from Palmetto, Fla. is expected to make his first collegiate start against Syracuse just two hours up the highway from his hometown in Orlando.
West Virginia fans don’t exactly know what they are getting in to with Allison, who sat out last season after transferring from Miami and has a grand total of 10 passing attempts in his career. Since Allison has yet to meet the media – as Grier’s backup, there was no reason for him to – we enlisted the help of Palmetto High coach Dave Marino.
“He’s a great kid,” Marino said. “He’s got a great demeanor in terms of his poise. He doesn’t get rattled.”
This attribute was first evident to Marino when Allison was a 15-year-old sophomore starter. It was halftime of their game against Bayshore, a team that would finish the year with a 2-8 record. But because Allison had played poorly and thrown a couple interceptions, Palmetto went into the locker room facing a seemingly insurmountable 38-7 hole.
“I said ‘We’re going to rally, you’re going to earn the trust of these guys and we’re going to win 42-38,’” Marino recalled.
Allison orchestrated a rally that resulted in a 41-38 win – only a missed PAT spoiled his coach’s vision – and his legend was born in Palmetto.
“That gave him the confidence that he could do this,” Marino said. “We didn’t have a lot of stud receivers, but he made some unbelievable throws. I don’t know how many times in practice he made throws where it was ‘Wow, did you see that?’”
Miami was the first power program to notice those throws. Lane Kiffin, then Alabama’s offensive coordinator, wasn’t far behind in showing interest. But because the Hurricanes were first, Allison didn’t waver from that commitment to Al Golden’s program.
A coaching change made Allison realize his career needed to continue elsewhere. Though new coach Mark Richt used pro-style quarterbacks like Matthew Stafford and Aaron Murray at Georgia, he decided to adopt more of a dual-threat look at Miami.
That left little hope of playing time for Allison, who is very much a singular threat.
He found the right fit in West Virginia, which had also proven perfect for Grier’s similar skill set.
“His accuracy and his arm strength stand out. The ability to put the ball down the field,” Marino said. “You saw that in some blowouts this season. He can throw the ball down field with some accuracy.”
Scrambling is not Allison’s forte.
“Would I have liked him to be Cam Newton and run the ball? Yeah,” Marino quipped. “Those are his weaknesses. But I think he’s worked hard at getting more athletic.”
Marino said Allison looked slower in high school than he actually is because he played with a bone spur in his ankle. He expects his former quarterback to have better escapability with a clean bill of health.
By sheer volume of 4- and 5-star players, Florida trails only Texas over the last five years of college football recruiting. Having played Class 7A football in that state, Allison has been prepared about as well as one can be for the college game.
“Pressure will not be the issue. There’s not gonna be any moment too big for Jack after playing at a big-time high school program,” Marino said. “He’s been there, done that.”
Nine months sooner than many West Virginia fans anticipated, Allison will attempt to prove those words true.
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