When he's away from the pounding he absorbs—and doles out—on the field, running back Anthony Allen likes to unwind by playing the piano. But according to Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt, Allen's no musical prodigy. "We visited coach [Paul] Johnson's house and [Allen] was trying to play the piano and sing," Nesbitt recalls, laughing. "I couldn't tell what [the song] was."
Yellow Jackets fans will forgive Allen if he can't perform on the piano as long as he can play sweetly on Saturdays and help the team repeat as ACC champs. Last season Allen filled the A-back position in Georgia Tech's triple-option scheme, a spot designed more for blocking. Nonetheless he averaged 9.7 yards a carry and scored six rushing touchdowns, although he carried the ball just 64 times.
This year the 6-foot, 228-pound senior, a punishing runner who calls himself an "attacker" seeking contact, is moving into the lead B-back role, replacing Jonathan Dwyer, who left early for the NFL. "Hopefully [Allen] will flourish with it," Johnson says. "I think he's more suited for that position."
It was, after all, this role that brought Allen to Atlanta in the first place. When he decided to leave Louisville after the 2007 season (he ran for 1,102 yards and 20 TDs over two years), Allen looked to Georgia Tech, where five of his Tampa Jesuit teammates were on the roster.
Those familiar faces piqued his interest, but Johnson sealed the deal. He showed Allen the stats of his past B-backs and footage of Georgia Southern's Adrian Peterson, who ran for more than 9,000 yards under Johnson. "As soon as I saw all that, I was like, Yeah, I want to do this. Let's go," Allen says.
His position switch is not the only notable change on the roster. Gone are defensive end Derrick Morgan, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and safety Morgan Burnett. The team also will be switching from a 4--3 to a 3--4 defense under new coordinator and former Virginia coach Al Groh.
But with Allen and Nesbitt, who ran and passed each for more than 1,000 yards last year, the pieces are in place for a dynamic duet. Says Nesbitt, "I'm hoping we make a platinum album."
COACH Paul Johnson (3rd year)
2009 RECORD 11--3 (6--2 in ACC)
FINAL AP RANK 13
RETURNING STARTERS 13
Offense 5, Defense 8
4 South Carolina St.
11 at Kansas
18 at North Carolina
25 N.C. State
2 at Wake Forest
16 Middle Tennessee State
23 at Clemson
4 at Virginia Tech
13 Miami (Fla.)
27 at Georgia
A former walk-on defensive lineman, he helped the Jackets run for 295.4 yards a game, second best in the country.
Nicknamed Gladiator, the 6'2" 237-pounder led the team in tackles (95) and was second in tackles for loss (8).
Nesbitt has transformed from a drop-back passer into an efficient operator in the triple-option offense.
DAVID BERGMAN (ALLEN)
After averaging 9.7 yards a carry last season, Allen (18) is the
apparent to Dwyer at the featured B-back position.
JOE ROBBINS/GETTY IMAGES