There’s a motto in Nebraska’s tight end room. “Every rep counts.”
It’s a motto that tight ends coach Sean Beckton has worked to instill in the players in his room, and it’s one they’ve taken upon themselves over the last two seasons. That’s especially true for sophomore tight end Austin Allen.
After redshirting in 2017, Allen played in all 12 games as a redshirt freshman in 2018. During Coach Scott Frost’s first season with the Huskers, Allen had two passes for 54 yards. One of those receptions came against Bethune-Cookman for 13 yards. The other was against then-No. 8 Ohio State for 41 yards, marking the longest reception by a Nebraska tight end since the 2015 season.
Allen continued to put in the work once the season ended. He made progress through spring football, summer conditioning and fall camp. Beckton noticed. Frost did too. But it wasn’t just Allen’s progress on the field that was starting to grow. It was also his role as a leader.
By the time the 2019 season rolled around, he had solidified himself as the No. 2 tight end behind junior Jack Stoll.
“I think this year was a big step for me as a leader because I think it gave me confidence that I secured the second spot,” Austin told Hail Varsity. “That allows me to be more open and vocal, so to say. As a guy who's maybe a third- or fourth-string, it maybe feels it's not their place to say something which it should be. It’s maybe just our nature to not be that guy. I think this year being a co-starter, I don't know what, but has allowed me to open up and be more vocal and be a guy that other guys from the floor look to for advice and leadership.”
Allen is a naturally outgoing guy, which bodes well to the leader he’s growing into. And that leadership is valuable. Frost doesn’t think Nebraska’s leadership is where it needs to be yet, but it’s growing and evolving.
Ask Frost for names, and he’ll mention players like Allen and Stoll. He’ll also point to Matt Farniok and Adrian Martinez.
“A lot of those guys are young though,” Frost said earlier in the week. “We’ll be in a better place when those guys are senior leaders and in charge of everything and setting the standard for everybody."
Setting that standard started for Allen as an observer during his first two seasons as a Husker. Frost doesn’t want to call it being a “follower” though. It’s better explained as a “great teammate,” as least how he sees it. When players are willing to take direction and give “100% every single day,” good things happen for the team.
“Leadership usually starts when you’re able to do that,” Frost said. “Then bring that one person along with you then that spirit grows and you’re able to bring more and more people with you. You don’t need a whole team of leaders, you just need a team of good teammates and several good leaders."
Allen agrees. Having been the one to take a step back and learn from those ahead of him, he’s become a better teammate and leader in his third year with Nebraska as a result.
“I think all great leaders had to be a follower at some point,” Allen said. “For me that was looking at the leaders and seeing what they're doing is working or not working. I can look at that and say, ‘That was definitely not the route I would talk about that situation, that I could learn from that.’ Being a follower, first and a little bit of my second year has allowed me to become a better leader now.”
Beckton has seen it firsthand. He’ll tell you that Allen’s a hard worker. He has been all year, even when things haven’t gone as planned. He’ll also tell you that he’d love to see Allen get more touches, and it’s something the Huskers are working on.
It can be hard when a team is 4-6, but Allen has continued to lead. He’s growing into it still, of course, but he’s on the right path. And he’s taking every moment—the good and the bad—and learning from it.
Because when things finally start clicking for Nebraska, Allen hopes he’s able to pass it forward. Every rep matters, after all.
“I'm just trying to learn from all the situations and become a better leader through it,” Allen said.
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.