By singling out a face in the crowd at Utah, Kenny Allen separated himself at Michigan.
Well, there was more to the entire scenario, but the beginning of a two-year career as a starter got started out west.
With 14:13 to play in the second quarter, and after a three-and-out by the Wolverines, Allen lined up for a 29-yard field goal, an attempt to tie the game at 3-3. Ordinarily, a 29-yard field goal would have been a chip-shot for Allen; however, circumstances had changed Sept. 4, 2015 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.
“In high school, you look behind the uprights and you don’t see anything,” said Allen, a former All-Stater at Fenton Mich.). “Well, I go out there, and it’s just this huge crowd of people. And you know, you try to not let that get into your head.”
The former walk-on had to find a way to settle the new sense of anxiety.
And he found one before splitting the yellow poles.
“Being the first college kick I ever attempted, I was a little bit nervous,” said Allen, who made 37 of 45 field goals and 99 of 99 extra-point attempts during his stint as starting kicker. “I picked out some dude’s face in the background, and I just aimed straight at his head. I would have hit him if the net wasn’t there…
“I was nervous and excited at the same time. I knew friends and family were watching back home.”
With thousands in his view, Allen focused on what would have otherwise been just another blur in the stands.
“There was just something about his face… I don’t know,” said Allen, laughing. “He just had a very distinct look. It could have been what he was wearing. I can’t recall, really. It was just this guy, sitting there.”
“I just told myself: ‘I’m going to hit him.’”
Entering the game, Allen knew that he would be the Wolverines’ top kicker for the season. The quick field goal wasn’t a surprise, either. John Baxter, special teams coordinator in 2015, made his intentions clear from the very beginning, expressing the desire to immediately acclimate Allen, then a fourth-year junior, to the new job.
“‘We’re going to kick a field goal, so be prepared,’” Baxter emphasized, per Allen.
Two years later, Allen ended his career as one of the Wolverines’ greatest kickers and punters, earning All-Big Ten honors and putting up back-to-back 100-point seasons. Whether by splitting the uprights or pinning opponents with lethal accuracy, Allen played a major role within one of the country’s most efficient special team units in 2015 and 2016.
“Everyone that was there, they were there to help, and that’s exactly what they did — they made my job very easy,” said Allen, the second-most accurate field-goal kicker in UM history (.822). “They gave me the tools necessary to perfect whatever I needed to perfect. And then from there, it was on my shoulders.”
Well, it was all on his right leg, really. More specifically, all on his right foot.
His punting and field goal kicking kept Michigan afloat during a 33-32 Orange Bowl loss to Florida State. He did the same during a controversial 30-27 double-overtime loss at Ohio State. His punting, three boots for 122 yards, helped control field position during a 33-23 win over Michigan State.
It was the Wolverines’ third win in 10 tries versus the Spartans, who had won three rivalry meetings in a row prior to this past fall.
At 6-foot-4 and 222 pounds, Allen has the build, talent and drive to handle both duties on Sundays. According to NFL Draft Scout, he’s the No.2-ranked NFL Draft-eligible punter and projects to be a seventh-round pick in April.
With that said, the past five years — with the past two being particularly influential — have taught Allen to be patient, humble and prepared to work.
“It’s exciting times, and you know, I’m happy with how things have turned out so far,” said Allen, who signed with NFL agent Glenn Schwartzman of Paramount Sports and Entertainment. “I’m not there yet. That’s the thing people keep asking me, ‘How does it feel to get ready for the NFL?’”
“‘Yeah, I’m getting ready, but you know, nothing’s going to happen if I don’t perform and do what I need to do,’” he explained. “I’m just looking at it like it’s almost college again. I’ve got to prove myself. I’ve got to prove myself to NFL coaches, NFL GMs and NFL scouts.
“That’s just the way I’m looking at right now. I know nothing’s going to be handed to me.”
Since the fall of 2012, Allen has clocked hour upon hour while pursuing segments of his dream. Rather than taking a full-ride at Oregon State, he chose to walk-on at Michigan. That was Part 1 of his dream, wearing a winged helmet. Becoming the starter was the second part. Eventually, he ended up becoming one of the team MVPs, serving as the Wolverines’ most consistent player in November and into bowl season.
As of now, he’s in the midst of the third leg of his dream: chasing the bonus on top of the bonus.
Choosing an Agent
As an athlete, selecting the right agent makes all the difference, especially choosing the first agent, Allen said.
Prior to signing with Schwartzman and Paramount Sports and Entertainment, Allen researched the process by speaking with old friends who had been through similar situations. Todd Carter — a Flint Carman-Ainsworth grad who once kicked for the Carolina Panthers — offered his opinion to Allen.
Zoltan Mesko, a former star Wolverines punter, has assisted Allen. Matt Lile, a former UM specialist who’s now with the Arizona Cardinals, shared some of his experiences as a way to ease the path for Allen.
CBS analyst Jay Feely, the kicker on Michigan’s 1997 national championship team, lent an ear when Allen needed to talk.
“Glenn, my agent, represented Jay when he was in the NFL — and Jay had nothing but great things to say about him,” said Allen, whose parents Joe and Stacey were also heavily involved in finding the right fit.
“When we talked to (Schwartzmann), we got the same feeling (as Feely),” Allen continued. “He’s an expert in this field, so it was a pretty easy decision for us.”
Science of Kicking
Being a punter and kicker requires a high-level understanding of the wind.
For example, the air circulates within the mega bowl that is Michigan Stadium, adding an additional layer to preparation. Swirling currents aren’t a friend.
“The wind will come in from one side, bounce off a press box and shoot the other way,” said Allen, who continuously monitors conditions hours prior to kickoff. “That happens on both sides. You’ve really got to be an expert when you’re out there judging the wind.”
At other venues, such as Spartan Stadium, the wind finds an exit through the north end zone or gap in the bleachers on either side. Having success in East Lansing requires an understanding of how to play the intermittent gusts.
“Even the slightest angle can change the way you punt into the wind,” said Allen, who once hung a punt for 5.5 seconds during a training session and 5.1 or 5.2 during a game in 2016. “If you take a slight angle to the right, versus punting from the left, you could use the wind to your advantage — and that’s what we would do.”
Picking out someone or something from the crowd helps a field goal kicker. Knowledge of wind helps, too; but so does the ability of visualizing angles.
“It depends what I see on my target line,” Allen said. “When I line up for a field goal, the fist thing I do, I look through the uprights. Could be a point on the scoreboard, could be someone in the crowd. Whatever I pick out… I keep that same target line. I take my steps back. Once I’m back, I draw an imaginary line up to the target line and down to my holder’s hand.”
Then just one more look through the uprights.
“Then I’m ready. I’m set. I’m ready for him to snap the ball,” explained Allen, who said having snapper Scott Sypniewski and holder Garrett Moores was “everything” to his success in 2016.
Handling the Good and Bad
On Oct. 1, then No. 4-ranked Michigan hosted then No. 8-ranked Wisconsin in Ann Arbor in what proved to be one the better games of the Big Ten season. Physical in all phases and low-scoring, the early-season showdown certainly lived up to the hype.
Despite a 14-7 win, Allen had hit a low by missing two field goals. He wasn’t happy with himself, either. Due to kicking and punting, his styles had “crossed over a little bit,” adding a degree of difficulty to an already challenging job description.
With that said, he talked to teammates and coaches, vowing to improve. Everyone understood, said Allen.
However, that didn’t stop the barrage of vile, rude and hateful messages on social media.
“I got some pretty bad ones… yeah…” Allen said. “I think there’s too many people on social media who have a platform — and shouldn’t. You’ve got to step back and look at it from an outside perspective. What people said to me, they were saying some pretty nasty stuff. (They were) messaging me (on Facebook).
“It didn’t bother me, but it bothered me when people would say things out in public — and my mom would see it, or my sister would see it… stuff like that.”
As a result, Allen learned from the unfortunate series of tweets, pings, pokes and whatever else came his way on the Internet.
“Some of the people who were sending me me messages, they had kids in their pictures,” Allen said. “And it said in their bio that they were a dad or something. I was thinking to myself, ‘Would you want someone saying that stuff to your kids?’ It’s a game of football. Obviously it’s important; but at the same time, you don’t need to be sending death threats.”
In 2015, Blake O’Neill, the former punter, received similar messages after botching a snap with 10 seconds to play versus Michigan State, leading to a shocking 27-23 loss. While the circumstance were slightly different, Allen found himself in the same shoes — a pair he never wanted to wear.
Learning to deal with the lowest form of criticism — and the lowest form of fans — helped Allen develop a thicker skin on his way to the pro ranks. However, following those two misses, he finished by going 1o-for-10 and booting a handful of career-best punts, quickly gaining notice as one of the country’s top specialists.
From a walk-on from Fenton, to a projected late-round NFL draft pick, Allen has accomplished goals during each phase of his career, patiently awaiting the next steps.
With that said, he’s never met a goal too big, nor has he met a kick he didn’t like.