It took four games for him to reach this status, but freshman running back Braelon Allen has become a vital piece of the University of Wisconsin football team’s offense.
He’s second on the team with 46 carries and 288 yards, but tied for the team lead with three rushing touchdowns. He and junior Chez Mellusi form the 1-2 punch in the Badgers’ backfield.
The 17-year-old from Fond du Lac had a lot to learn about being a collegiate running back when he arrived at UW, but he was physically prepared to do so. Here’s our story from August exploring just how Allen accomplished that:
Looking the part never has been a problem for Braelon Allen.
The 6-foot-2, 240-pound running back for the 12th-ranked University of Wisconsin football team is as physically put together as a freshman can be. He moves both on and off the field with an easy power and efficiency.
Putting in the work isn’t an issue for Allen, either. You’ve probably seen the weightlifting highlights on social media this offseason, videos showing the 17-year-old squatting more than 600 pounds or cleaning over 400. Listen to his coaches and teammates, and they essentially will promise Allen’s day is coming and possibly soon.
Chances on the field may be hard to come by for Allen early in season, including Saturday’s opener against No. 19 Penn State at Camp Randall Stadium. He still is learning the intricacies of being a college running back after spending the majority of his prep career focused on defensive positions.
“Coach (Gary) Brown’s done a great job of really developing me just from raw, natural talent at the position,” Allen said last week. “It all starts with the playbook, obviously, just knowing what I need to do. And then I guess just learning defenses, understanding blocking schemes, things like that. All that goes along with the position that I really had to learn, really, all over again.”
Allen’s path to Madison wasn’t conventional. He should be two games into his senior season as a high schooler, but he chose to reclassify to 2021 to get his college career started sooner. That choice had him packing about 1.5 school years and a football season into the spring and summer months. On top of that, Allen was intensifying his training in preparation for the college game.
Myles Burkett, Allen’s friend and the Badgers’ 2022 quarterback recruit from Franklin, introduced Allen to Jonny Bridgewater, a sports performance coach who owns and operates a gym in Franklin. Burkett brought along Allen to a training session with Bridgewater and the pair immediately hit it off.
That relationship led to Allen traveling from his home in Fond du Lac to Bridgewater’s gym, about a 90-minute drive, twice a week to train. Those sessions, especially the flexibility and mobility work before games this spring, helped Allen dominate his junior season en route to winning Associated Press Player of the Year honors in the state.
His dedication to his body and football took another step after his last high school season ended.
With his schoolwork mostly virtual due to the pandemic, Allen lived with Bridgewater for a little more than a month before he moved to Madison. Monday through Friday, Allen would wake up, start some schoolwork, get in a lift, attend virtual classes, spend time at Bridgewater’s gym, train a second time, then finish his schoolwork. The days were consistently between 12 and 14 hours of school and training, giving Allen a taste of college football before he was enrolled at UW.
“Just the fact of how dedicated this kid was to conference calls with his counselor in Fond du Lac, making sure he was doing the right things, making sure things got turned in on time, was actually just kind of admirable to see,” Bridgewater said. “He was on his computer and in the weight room with me. … That kid’s work ethic is next to none.”
A major difference for Allen when arriving at Madison was learning when he needed to give his body time to rest and recover.
“There’s been a couple times where I’ve gotten kicked out the weight room,” Allen said.
Allen will be featured on a sports reality show Bridgewater is developing with VrTuo Sports, which will show the development of athletes going from the high school to college level and from college to the professional ranks.
His willingness to grind has caught UW coach Paul Chryst’s eye. While carries early in the season will be handled by junior Chez Mellusi and redshirt freshman Jalen Berger, Chryst sees Allen’s dedication to the process of becoming a more complete player and said he’ll be one of the true freshmen to play a role this season.
“I think that there’s also kind of a learning curve for those guys that, if I didn’t break it for a touchdown (it’s not good),” Chryst said. “There’s just a lot to learn. And I love his approach and how he goes about it.”
The more experienced players in the backfield have been helpful in teaching the finer points Allen needs to learn, he said.
Allen was working with multiple special teams units during training camp, so he will be on the field in other ways than the tailback role early in his career. As his collegiate debut approaches, he’s been trying to temper his excitement and keep his focus on developing and helping the Badgers as much as he can in whatever role he can.
“I know it’s coming quick, but my mind still hasn’t processed how quickly it’s coming,” Allen said. “Right now, I’m still trying to get my spot — earn carries and reps and stuff.
“Just showing that I can play and what I can do on the field. Running with power, just kind of trying to show guys that not only can I run the ball, but catch the ball out of the backfield, pass protect. Just showing them I’m an all-around back.”
Badgers fans on Twitter see some signs of life after Wisconsin takes down Army — but not everyone's sold
High hopes crushed againUpdated
Every time I watch Mertz I think it’s going to be the game he turns it around and shows something and every game it’s more underwhelming play. I really don’t know how anything we see from this passing game puts us in position to beat Purdue and Iowa coming up— Andrew Zimdars (@andrew_zimdars) October 17, 2021
Room for debateUpdated
Won’t matter with this QB— Fred Ehle (@FredEhle) October 17, 2021
Holding out hopeUpdated
Wisconsin’s defense got the job done. Their offense did just enough to win. Graham Mertz is still a work in progress, and I’m not optimistic that he can lead the team to a win at Purdue or Iowa at home in the next two weeks.— Jeff Ostach (@jeff_ostach) October 17, 2021
Nothing new to see hereUpdated
Other than Braelon Allen's emergence, this is the same team we have seen all season. Offense cannot impose its will on teams and they eventually hang the defense out to dry.— Craig Smith (@smithcp1) October 17, 2021
Dinner and a (boring) showUpdated
Just got back to hotel after being at that game. I was as bored as my wife was watching that one. The best part was the brats and Mac n cheese from the concessions.— Eric M. Tostrud (@EricTostrud) October 17, 2021
Working with what they've gotUpdated
Russ, you are right but, unfortunately, the playbook is limited with the talent they have.— Jon Ahlgrim (@JonAhlgrim) October 17, 2021
Stuck on cruise controlUpdated
It reminded me of watching Packers games in the 70s.— Howie (@WhoIsRoark) October 17, 2021
I’m starting to think the whole Athletic Department is living off the heydays of when Barry had it humming along.
Any week now!Updated
Every week I hope they show some progress and get better but it hasn’t happened. Outgained 218-80 in the second half. Tough to win with that formula when Mertz averages 2.5 TO’s per game.— Chad Steinmetz (@CSteiny24) October 17, 2021
Running at full powerUpdated
Let's go!! I'm pumped about beating a pretty tough Army team. Love our new RB combo! Mertz umm— BigCat5969 (@TylerBouressa) October 17, 2021
Bowl a bit out of reach?Updated
God bless your optimism. I am struggling to see what three teams this Badger team can beat to become bowl eligible? The die is cast. A down o line, unimaginative offense with a struggling QB, a defensive backfield that can’t cover and shambolic special teams. #ouch— Patrick Brzezinski (@glenlivit_guy) October 17, 2021
Take what you getUpdated
Enjoy it. Won’t be surprised if this team does not win another game this season sadly.— Michael Burger (@Burgscom) October 17, 2021
Prepping for a Boilermaker beatdownUpdated
Purdue will roll this team next week— Will Clausen (@willclausen2) October 17, 2021
Not getting any easierUpdated
Probably their last win of the season.— Mr. Joshua (@quinntile76) October 17, 2021
Good enough ... for nowUpdated
Mertz and the offense weak again but the Badger D was good enough. This won't work with the better teams they play.— John Husmoe (@JohnHusmoe) October 17, 2021
We've seen worseUpdated
Making a pointUpdated
This is THE question that needs to be asked. Is Chryst just not thinking at all in that situation???— Dan (@drkoz23) October 17, 2021
Their offense had the ball the bulk of it— Mark Benson (@MarkBen23939436) October 17, 2021
Buck stops hereUpdated
He is the guy recruiting them.— rich carlson (@richwcarlson) October 17, 2021
In the driver's seatUpdated
Control our destiny in the West! Tons to play for.— Douglas Greenberg (@DougGreenB) October 17, 2021
Well, it really didUpdated
I thought the volleyball team played great today— Pat Richards (@pgrichards0407) October 17, 2021
Standing their groundUpdated
We went toe to toe with the best military in the country! On Wisconsin!— Dan Paulson (@kuatolives11) October 17, 2021
At least the defense is strongUpdated
Offense is terrible. Mertz looks lost. Defense is pretty good. Boring all around. That's all.— Troy (@troy_angus) October 17, 2021
It couldn't hurtUpdated
Will need to play much better to have a chance next week. Passing game will be needed.— Erik Grinde (@egrinde) October 17, 2021
Never count out a gladiatorUpdated
Not great, but I will tell you this: His name is Braelon Allen, football player for the Wisconsim, alumnus of Fon du Lac, loyal Badger. 17-year-old Freshman, converted defensive player. And he will have his starring role as lead RB, in this season or the next.— Rob Vitense (@BadgerCubinMN) October 17, 2021
On to the nextUpdated
Relieved and glad this game is out of the way.— Kurt Sagendorph (@ksagendo) October 17, 2021