Bill Magnusson knew what kind of quarterback Josh Allen was.
As a 180-pound gunslinger for Magnusson at Firebaugh (California) High School, a school of 650 kids in a two-stoplight farm town, Allen didn't garner much recruiting attention.
Many in Firebaugh believed Allen would end up at nearby Fresno State, but the Bulldogs said they were looking for a bigger quarterback. As a three-sport athlete, Allen spent more time on the field than in the weight room, but Magnusson knew that once he grew into his body, Allen would be something special.
"He was doing things with a 6-foot-3, 180-pound body that if he ever gets to 220, he’s going to be the most dangerous QB on the planet," Magnusson said. "And I’m sure they thought I was trying to sell them a car, but I’m not that guy. I’m a Christian guy. I wasn’t trying to sell them anything. I was telling them what I actually believed he could do."
After a season at Reedley Community College, Allen's only offers came from Eastern Michigan and Wyoming.
Now a 6-foot-5, 225-pound redshirt sophomore with the Cowboys, few teams would turn down a second chance at Allen.
He has already been dubbed Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week twice this season and the Manning Award Quarterback of the Week once.
And it doesn't appear he is about to peak anytime soon.
"It was very frustrating having coaches overlook you and it still fuels me every day that multiple coaches have done that," Allen said. "I come out every game with the same mentality: ‘I don’t like your team. You didn’t recruit me.’"
His arm is strong enough to make passes that can only be described as "NFL throws." His legs have added a whole new component to Wyoming's offense. And his size, speed and agility would seem to make him the complete package.
Allen's emergence this season, his first as a full-time starter, is arguably the biggest reason Wyoming has gone from a two-win team to one contending for a conference championship.
Back at Firebaugh, kids are wearing Wyoming shirts to school on Fridays. Players on the junior team are begging to tag along with Magnusson and watch Allen play at UNLV on Saturday instead of playing in their own championship game.
Bohl compares Allen favorably to Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, whom Bohl coached at North Dakota State.
"We were excited about it when we signed him," Bohl said of Allen. "But I could see some other people say, ‘OK, he’s from a small town. He’s played one year at a junior college that was kind of off the beaten path. There’s 20 other guys (like him) out there.’
"Yeah, I don’t think so. I think we got a special player."
Allen is accustomed to being "the guy."
As a quarterback, he was a part of a building process at Firebaugh not unlike the one happening at Wyoming. In eighth grade, his team won one game. By the time he was a senior, Firebaugh was a 10-win team.
"We don’t get people transferring in, so you’re basically talking about the same kids playing from eighth grade through their senior year in high school," Magnusson said. "And when you get to see and be a part of that, you realize that the quarterback, he’s just a huge part of that."
As a point guard, he brought the ball down the court for Firebaugh's basketball team, even when he grew from a 5-10 freshman to the tallest player on his team.
It helps explain how as a 6-5 college sophomore he still has the agility to make defenders look silly.
"You don’t really expect a guy to put a move on you that’s my size," Allen said.
As a pitcher, he learned to take command, despite playing first base until playoff time his senior season.
"We had a great pitching coach at the time, who was my head coach in high school, and he did a great job with him and just making him understand that," said Alex Gutierrez, Firebaugh's baseball coach and quarterbacks coach. "You’re not a first baseman anymore. You’re on the mound, and you’re the man. He learned it, he picked it up really fast, and he was our guy in the playoffs."
Allen, who pitched in the high 80s his senior year, credits his current arm strength to his baseball background.
Defending a 6-5 quarterback with the arm of a pitcher and the moves of a point guard is tough enough as is. But throw in the intangibles that come from being a multi-sport athlete, and you've got a quarterback that Bohl predicts will be one of the best in the country by the time his college career is over.
"If you’re a year-round football guy, you’re only competing for three months, and in college, let’s face it, you’d better be ready to compete from August to January," Magnusson said. "So as much as blocking or catching or any of those individual skills are habits, so is competition, and if you’re used to competing and giving your best all throughout the year and you get to college and that’s what they expect, you’re ready to go."
And make no mistake, Allen is a competitive player. In his first collegiate start, he suffered a season-ending collarbone break against Eastern Michigan. He has shown no hesitance to put his body on the line in his return. A year later, against Eastern Michigan once again, Allen attempted to hurdle over multiple defenders for what was initially ruled a go-ahead touchdown.
"That’s just who he is," Gutierrez said. "If he’s limping or something, come game time he just seems to forget. He just loves to compete, and that’s something that I wouldn’t want anyone to take away from him in any way, because that’s what makes him who he is."
As do his parents.
"His dad’s a farmer," Magnusson said. "His mom runs the top restaurant in town. They’re winners. They’re competitors. They were athletes in their younger years, and even what they do now -- she wants her restaurant to be the best, and Joel wants his ranch to be the best."
Allen was disappointed by his lack of options coming out of Firebaugh, but given the small size of his high school, his coaches weren't surprised.
"We all know how it is here," Gutierrez said. "You’ve got to go the long road."
Allen didn't participate in many camps and wasn't on many schools' radars.
"In California, there’s a quarterback circuit," said Wyoming offensive coordinator Brent Vigen, who recruited Allen. "And he was not a part of that."
Allen also didn't look the part as much as he does today. He was 6-3 but a little underdeveloped physically at 180 pounds.
"He was never a guy that really bought into the weight room," Gutierrez said. "He has a younger brother and his younger brother has that strength in the weight room. He’s a weight room guru guy. Josh didn’t have that. Josh was a real, real injury-prone type. ... And it wasn’t his fault. It’s just his body wasn’t going the right way that his brother was, so he had to work for it."
It's hard to believe now, after seeing him pick up first down after first down for Wyoming with his legs, but Allen wasn't much of a runner in high school. In fact, he called himself "really slow."
"He’d be the first to fall in the pocket before he took a hit," Gutierrez said. "And not because he wasn’t a competitor but because he knew his body and he knew he couldn’t handle that."
But the arm? The arm was always there.
Magnusson recalls watching Gutierrez and Allen play long-ball catch and seeing just what kind of arm the high-schooler had.
"He’d sit there and play catch 50 yards away, then 55, then 60, then 65," Magnusson said. "I’m sitting there just looking at him, going, ‘This is beauty. This is special.’"
Allen put on about 20 pounds before playing at Reedley, where he passed for 285.3 yards per game, seventh most among California JUCO quarterbacks. Former Wyoming secondary coach David Brown first caught sight of Allen when Wyoming's staff was recruiting before its game at Fresno State in 2014.
Vigen liked what he saw, but Wyoming thought it was about to get a commitment from quarterback Eric Dungey. Dungey instead committed to Syracuse, leaving Wyoming with just enough time to sign Allen, who wanted to transfer at semester instead of waiting.
"It was a deal where sometimes you get in recruiting and, 'Is this too good to be true?'" Vigen said. "... We were like, ‘We might have something here,’ but at the same time in recruiting when you don’t see a kid throw live, it’s a little bit of a guessing game. But we liked the things we saw enough to go full steam there, and by the time he got here, it was about re-transforming that body."
Allen put on muscle and shed unnecessary weight while recovering from his collarbone injury. Now, he's a physical force at quarterback, and who knows if he's done growing yet.
"He's a sophomore and doesn't shave yet," Bohl said. "There's something to be said for that. His trajectory looks really good."
Allen's statistics do a fair enough job of showing what he has meant to Wyoming's offense this year. His 146 points responsible for are best in the Mountain West. His 209.3 passing yards per game are third in the conference, as is his pass efficiency of 149.3, and his total offense of 253.4 yards per game is second.
But nothing elucidates Allen's overall talent and potential quite like three memorable touchdowns, all to Tanner Gentry, all on the run, all thrown with perfect accuracy from 27 yards or more.
The first one came right before halftime against Nebraska. Allen rolled to his right, pointed at Gentry and somehow squeezed a 35-yard pass into a minuscule window in the corner of the end zone.
The most difficult one came last week against Utah State. For this pass, Allen rolled to his left and threw 46 yards across his body to Gentry for a touchdown.
The most memorable one, and Allen's favorite, came in Wyoming's upset win against Boise State. Allen, just like on the Nebraska throw, rolled to his right and pointed to Gentry. Where exactly he wanted the senior receiver to go was only clear to the two of them, but they connected for a game-tying touchdown.
Allen said he doesn't even practice those throws on the run. But when the games come around he finds a way to make plays that have opposing recruiting coordinators shaking their heads and high school rivals texting Magnusson to ask if he saw what his former quarterback just did.
"Win, lose or draw, they remember Josh Allen," Magnusson said.
It makes it even harder to believe that Allen was mostly a forgotten entity coming out of junior college, much less high school.
He is the can't-miss quarterback whom everyone missed.
Well, almost everyone.
"I think Bohl and the guys that got Josh look like geniuses right now," Magnusson said.