KEENAN ALLEN IS A FREAK! THIS PHRASE—RELIABLY BLURTED OUT BY ANYONE WHO HAS seen the way the 6' 3" 206-pounder stretches the bounds of his compression apparel, the distances he carries dog-piling defenders on Saturdays and the silences he occasions with his Cirque du Soleil--style catches on the practice days in between—might be one of the few things the junior simply can't outrun. His stats (98 receptions for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns in 13 games) lend further credence to the idea that Allen is otherworldly.
But Allen is very much of this world: specifically, Greensboro, N.C. There he learned the rudiments of the game alongside half-brother Zach Maynard and cousin Maurice Harris, today the Bears' starting quarterback and another of their starting receivers, respectively. Maynard blazed the trail west: He was a starter at Buffalo, but after Turner Gill, the coach who recruited him, left for Kansas, he saw no point in staying. A transfer seemed the way to go—to Berkeley, specifically, where he could learn from one of the game's great passing gurus, Jeff Tedford.
As Maynard was pondering a move, Allen, a one-man wrecking crew whom Northern Guilford High coach Johnny Roscoe would pull from games at intermission out of respect for the mercy rule ("I'd only seen him drop one ball in the two years he was with us," says Roscoe), had verbally committed to Alabama. He was open, however, to having his mind changed. "I just kinda put the decision on [Maynard], and I told him wherever he wanted to go, that's where I was going to go," Allen says. "He chose Cal."
Allen's chemistry with Maynard is obvious. Even when there's miscommunication, Allen has been around his brother long enough to know where his mind will lead them. "We're always two steps ahead of the game," says Allen, who sets the pace with his indefatigable work ethic. The man-beast simply does not get tired. Not of practicing. Not of watching film. Not of competing. "If you say, 'Let's go over there,' he'll want to race you there," Tedford says. "He's a guy that you have to slow down because he's always champing at the bit to do more."
Goodness knows, Tedford lades Allen with enough to do already. He plays all three wide receiver positions—none more efficiently than the slot, where he is regularly mismatched against slower linebackers and smaller defensive backs. He returns kicks. (His knack for reading balls as they launch from the kicker's foot is a skill that takes even the best pros a career to acquire.) He even runs some wildcat, a formation out of which he completed the first of his two career pass attempts for a 17-yard score and has run for an average of 7.1 yards on 27 carries. And Allen, a threat to become the first receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since Michigan's Desmond Howard in 1991, is able to do all these things because of his next-level perspective on the game. When Allen lines up before a snap, "I don't even really look at the defender in front of me," he says. "If you look kinda behind the defender and to the other side of the field, that'll tell you what kind of coverage it is. It makes it 100% easier out there."
His lone adversity came in the spring, when an ankle sprain sidelined him for that session. (He'll be 100% by the fall opener.) It was, of course, a freak injury, suffered when he landed on someone's foot after going up for a rebound in a pickup hoops game. It was also a reminder that Allen is human. It's merely his intensity that's out of this world.