Aug. 27—STATE COLLEGE
Practice came to the moment for which players admit they pine most.
One more play.
The locker room beckoned. A cool shower readied, and the comfort of their beds welcomed them for a night-long respite before they had to do it all again the next day.
Quarterback Drew Allar dropped back, scanned the field, and fired a pass in the direction of Penn State's presumed top receiver, junior KeAndre Lambert-Smith. The ball ended up bouncing on the turf at Penn State's outdoor practice facility. The attempted throw a little off the mark, and the tough catch that Lambert-Smith needed to haul it in anyway not made.
Immediately, Allar's right hand spun in a circle, his index finger pointing outward. One more rep, he demanded. Practices only end on high notes.
"That," Lambert-Smith said a few minutes later, "is building chemistry.
"You don't want to end with that nasty feeling. You don't want to end with a drop. That's just showing the type of relationship and bond we're trying to build, not just with me and him but with him and the receivers as a whole. By the time game one comes, we want to be clicking. We're trying to have that chemistry built."
Game one waits, a week away now. Head coach James Franklin didn't announce a winner of the preseason quarterback battle between Allar and his redshirt freshman counterpart Beau Pribula. If it doesn't come during Franklin's press conference Tuesday, it likely will have to wait until the No. 7 Nittany Lions kick off against West Virginia on Saturday night at 7:30 at Beaver Stadium.
However, the expectation is that Allar not only will get the first snaps, but that the Nittany Lions' championship fortunes in 2023 will teeter on how quickly he can develop into an effective playmaker at the college level.
After all, the Associated Press published a story last week with the headline: "Why Penn State QB Drew Allar might be college football's most important player." And that's two months after ESPN, in one of its online breakdowns, opined that Allar "gives James Franklin his CFP shot."
In that article, Franklin praised Allar's poise in the huddle and calm in the pocket, not holding back when pressed on the importance of having elite talent at the quarterback position in the modern college game.
"Although we've had some good ones here ... the difference between us winning three New Year's Six bowl games and getting into the playoff and winning a national championship is having an elite quarterback that can make the plays that change games," Franklin said then.
Over the last month, Franklin's praise of Allar has become far less effusive, publicly at least. But it hasn't slowed from the outside.
"The expectations on him are through the roof," said former Penn State star quarterback Todd Blackledge, who will call the season opener as an analyst for NBC. "By all accounts, he seems like he's got the right temperament. He's got the right personality. He wants to be great. He wants to be coached. He's got humility.
"And he's got talent. He's got major talent."
That much has been clear since he arrived on campus as a true freshman in January 2022.
A consensus top-three quarterback recruit nationally as rated by each of the major recruiting services after a dominant senior season at Medina High School in Ohio, Allar is easily the highest-rated quarterback recruit to land at Penn State during the Franklin era.
He earned the backup quarterback job last August, essentially driving four-star backup Christian Veilleux — who had a dominant outing in a win over Rutgers in 2021 that excited fans — into the transfer portal in the offseason.
Veilleux wound up at Pittsburgh, and when longtime starter Sean Clifford went in the fifth round of the NFL Draft last spring, it left Penn State with few questions at the quarterback position. Even if there is no starting experience left on the roster.
Allar played in just one undecided game last season, but he did complete 35 of 60 throws for 344 yards. He threw four touchdown passes without an interception, and when he takes the field this season, he'll do so with a dynamic running game led by sophomores Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen to lean on and behind a stout offensive line to protect him.
But, it's his raw talent that fans will be watching.
Lambert-Smith conceded that Allar's throws spin so quickly, so accurately, and come toward receivers with such force, they've ripped skin off his fingers.
"When it's coming, you better get your head around," Lambert-Smith said. "That's the best way I can explain it."
This spring, Franklin urged sophomores like Allar to assume a greater leadership role on a team that lost Clifford and other relied upon voices like defensive stalwarts PJ Mustipher and Ji'Ayir Brown. So, Allar went to work on being the point man for players to gather around on the offense.
Another legendary former Penn State quarterback working for NBC, Michael Robinson, pointed out during a teleconference last week that his sources within the program raved about Allar's maturation as a leader.
But, he wonders, if his level of experience heading into the season can possibly allow him to live up to the expectations fans will have for him out of the chute.
"A lot of people are saying, from an arm-talent standpoint, he's probably the best or one of the best that has ever come out of the school," Robinson said. "That's a tremendous amount of pressure."
To his credit, Allar said he feels no pressure.
The quarterback battle, he said, will be determined by the coaches.
He said his focus remains on each day, each practice and, of course, each play, like the one that ended that practice.
"I'm just gonna do what I have to do," Allar said. "I just think I need to be myself. I don't want to try to be someone I'm not. I think that goes for every position. Just playing within yourself and not trying to do something extraordinary."
Even if every bit of Penn State's hopes rely on the idea that, at some point, he'll do the extraordinary, with consistency.
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