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WEST LAFAYETTE – Ricardo Allen isn't coming out of the game. Let's get that straight.
“This year, I won't come off the field, no matter what happens,” he says.
No, Purdue's senior cornerback isn't challenging the authority of head coach Darrell Hazell or defensive coordinator Greg Hudson. But after a banged-up junior year when he never was really healthy, he's ready to be a guy who plays to the end.
“My junior year, I went down with injuries, with a leg injury. I didn't finish a game the whole season.”
Allen pauses. Just the thought burns at him.
“I won't come off the field no matter what,” he repeats for emphasis
Allen is serious. He certainly looks serious. He has tattooed arms, buzzed hair and a wisp of a mustache. His confidence comes from a fierce work ethic as much as physical ability that has earned him All-Big Ten honors. He has an NFL drive and isn't about to let anything mess that up.
So he will play, healthy if it happens, banged up if necessary.
“As a senior and a four-year starter, I have to demand to make more plays,” he says. “I have to be on the field.”
Good things happen when Allen is in the game, including his school-record four interceptions returned for touchdowns. That's one more than ex-Snider standout Rod Woodson had as a Boilermaker before going on to NFL Hall of Fame success.
Last year's injuries limited Allen to 46 tackles in 11 of Purdue's 13 games. Those are the only games he hasn't started in his college career. As a freshman he had 73 tackles. As a sophomore it was 81.
Hudson has praised the “edge” in Allen's game. Hudson has designed a defense that will attack instead of react.
Allen loves it.
“We're a more aggressive defense,” he says. “We play faster. We know our stuff. We keep everything simple. We don't confuse too many people. You just go. You make plays. When it's your turn to make a play, you make it.”
Allen has always had play-making knack and ultra-intense drive. It was fueled by a childhood accident -- a grease fire started while he was cooking hamburgers -- that left older brother Adrian with second-degree burns on his arms and spurred Ricardo's decision to play football.
How badly did Allen want to get good? He walked 2 miles home after practice every day from Daytona Beach Mainland High School in Florida. He jumped enough rope to wear out a dozen weight-losing wrestlers. He tried and failed and tried again.
Eventually, he got good enough to earn a Purdue scholarship.
That work ethic remains. Allen did late-summer-night drills in his apartment complex's sand volleyball court when he wasn't taking late-summer-night jogs. He studied countless hours of video on his own play (looking for mistakes) as well as top NFL cornerbacks.
Secondary coach Jon Heacock figures to use Allen and safety Landon Feichter on the same side of the field at times, although not necessarily all the time.
“The way offenses have gone with all the speed,” Heacock said, “we're trying to find some ways so we're not running all over the place getting lined up. You can't play defense without being in the right spot.”
Allen hopes to get drafted by the NFL next spring. For now the goal is to help Purdue make a third straight bowl game in Hazell's Boiler debut season.
“We've become a more mature team. A more disciplined team. A hungrier team. Coach Hazell is a business guy. At the end of the day, we're not rebuilding, we're getting better.”
The Purdue Football Kickoff Luncheon is set for Friday, Aug. 16, at the Purdue Memorial Union. It begins at 11:30 a.m. Coach Darrell Hazell and his staff will introduce players and talk about the season. Tickets cost $25 per seat or $175 for a table of seven. They can be reserved by calling the Greater Lafayette Commerce at 765-742-4044. Mail checks to Greater Lafayette Commerce, Attn: Football Kickoff, P.O. Box 348, Lafayette, Ind. 47902