Careers come to end for seniors

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FAYETTEVILLE — Austin Allen, the son of a college football coach, said it’s a been a blessing to have spent nearly his entire life in the same place.

Allen, 23, moved with his family from Boise, Idaho, to Fayetteville in December 1997 when his father, Bobby, was hired as a Razorbacks assistant coach to Houston Nutt.

Bobby Allen is in his 20th year at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville as either a coach or director of high school relations, the position he’s held since 2013.

Austin Allen recalled his parents talking about the possibility of moving when Bobby Petrino replaced Nutt after the 2007 season.

“There were a lot of things going on,” Allen said. “From what I remember, they told us we might be moving, might be going to a new state, making new friends.

“We’ve been really lucky to be here for 20 years. That doesn’t happen in the coaching profession, so it’s really been a blessing. My family really has been happy here.”

Allen and his older brother, Brandon, grew up around Arkansas football. As kids, they threw passes on the field before games, imitating the Razorbacks’ star quarterbacks.

“We’d be acting like Clint Stoerner, Matt Jones,” Allen said. “Throwing the ball in the corner of the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.”

The kids’ play turned into the real thing for both.

The Allens have combined to throw 98 touchdown passes for the Razorbacks.

Brandon Allen — now with the Los Angeles Rams — was Arkansas’ starting quarterback from 2013-2015 and holds the school record with 64 touchdown passes.

Austin Allen took over the last two years, and despite missing four games due to a shoulder injury, he ranks seventh at Arkansas with 34 touchdown passes.

“It’s been our dream to run through the ‘A’ and be the starting quarterback for the University of Arkansas,” Austin Allen said. “For both of us to accomplish that, it’s something we never really thought realistically was going to happen. … It’s something I really wouldn’t trade for anything.”

Allen, a fifth-year senior, will run through the “A” one last time today when Arkansas plays Missouri.

“The University of Arkansas has meant everything to my family,” he said. “I just want to finish it out the right way.”

Allen is one of 16 players who will be honored in the pregame senior day ceremony.

Other senior starters include defensive backs Josh Liddell, Kevin Richardson and Henre Toliver, nose guard Bijhon Jackson, linebacker Dwayne Eugene and running back David Williams, a graduate transfer from South Carolina.

Senior center Frank Ragnow started 33 consecutive games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury on Oct. 21.

“I know it’s going to be emotional, but I’m going to come out and play a focused game,” said Richardson, a former Jacksonville High standout. “Go out and try to give ourselves a ‘W’ in my last game here at Razorback Stadium.”

Richardson, like Allen, is a team captain. He came to Arkansas as a walk-on and earned a scholarship in 2015.

“From a walk-on to a team captain,” Richardson said. “That’s something I’ve just been taking in this whole season.”

Jackson, from El Dorado, became a starter for the first time this year.

“It’s been my dream since I was a little kid to play for the Razorbacks,” Jackson said. “I can’t believe I’ve only got one game left. I’m just going to go out and give it my all and do my job the best I can for the last time.”

Bret Bielema is in his fifth season at Arkansas, so he recruited all the seniors.

“We’ve got a good group of guys who have accomplished a lot of good things academically, athletically, socially,” Bielema said. “I’m very proud to be around them, the resiliency they’ve had, and would love to give them an opportunity to go out a winner.”

Toliver, a cornerback from Marrero, La., has 35 career starts.

“It flew by,” Toliver said. “It happens fast, man. Real fast. It’s been an amazing journey. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Ragnow, of Victoria, Minn., said ending his senior season has been tough, but he’s glad he’s a Razorback.

“I’m so grateful for these four years and I wouldn’t change a thing,” Ragnow said. “The people in this program, the fans, it’s just been surreal.”

Ragnow said it’s hard to believe he won’t play at Arkansas anymore.

“It’s just like the snap of a finger,” he said. “They always say you’re going to look back and it’s going to be like, ‘Holy crap.’ And here it is, holy crap. Here I am about to go out for my senior day.”

Bielema said he talks to players about senior day during recruiting.

“I always tell them, I want senior day to be emotional for all the right reasons,” Bielema said. “I don’t want it to be because you’re miserable and you can’t wait to get out of here.

“I want it to be great and that you accomplished your goal of getting a degree, you chased your dreams of being great on the field, and how you set yourself up for whatever life’s opportunity is.”

Ragnow remembered during his recruiting visit that Bielema pulled out a legal pad with the path to senior day written down.

“Me and my dad were sitting in his office and he draws the line, ‘Here we are and here you are at senior day,’ and then he writes down all the things he wants you to accomplish,” Ragnow said. “It’s just crazy how it’s all become real.”

Defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said senior day is always special.

“You’re going to have a lot of family that’s not necessarily here every game,” he said. “There are a lot of memories built up over four and five years, and those are year-round memories. The sweat in the summertime and the work in the wintertime and all the games, wins and losses.”

Allen came into the season with high expectations after passing for 25 touchdowns and an SEC-leading 3,430 yards in 2016, but it has been a struggle with pass-blocking issues and injuries. He has passed for 1,114 yards and eight touchdowns in 2017.

“Austin, I know, had big dreams and aspirations going into this year and unfortunately sometimes the powers that be don’t let it happen,” Bielema said. “And it wasn’t from a lack of effort. It wasn’t from a lack of preparation.”

Offensive coordinator Dan Enos has coached Allen for three seasons.

“Austin has just been through a lot this year,” Enos said. “I really feel bad for him. He’s invested in this program and this team. It hasn’t been the kind of year I know he wanted to have or we wanted to have for him.

“I hope we can play well and win this last game. We’ll certainly do everything we can as a coaching staff to help put him in that situation.”

The seniors agreed beating Missouri will help ease the pain of what’s been a tough season that will end today rather than in a bowl game.

“Things just really didn’t go our way this year,” Allen said. “For whatever reasons, we couldn’t pull out the victories like we should have. It’s disappointing for us.

“Now we want to play a complete game. That’s the thing we’re all thinking about. Playing a complete game and getting a win.”

Sports on 11/24/2017

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