Josh Allen

Once he made a decision to return for his senior campaign, Josh Allen hasn't looked back and enjoyed a stellar senior campaign last season. He is projected to be a top pick in this week's NFL Draft. (UK Athletics/Chet White)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Mark Stoops has no doubt Josh Allen will succeed at the next level.

“He ranks right up there as one of the great players that I have had the opportunity to coach, there is no question about that,” The Kentucky football coach said Tuesday. “There is no doubt that he will be a successful pro by the way that he lives his life and the way he is driven to be great. He will be on that board and probably front and center.”

Allen is among the top defensive players in this year’s NFL Draft that begins Thursday in Nashville. Allen is projected a Top 5 pick and could be taken as high as No. 3 by the New York Jets. The Oakland Raiders, San Francisco, New York Giants and Buffalo also are possible destinations for Allen.

Allen isn’t sure where he will begin his professional career, but knows he will have a chip on his shoulder once the draft begins.

"I'm going to be proving people wrong until the day I die," Allen told Sporting News this week. "I believe it. This next step that's coming, I feel like a couple teams could pass on me not knowing what my abilities are. I feel like I'm going to be proving people wrong in the NFL again."

Allen, the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year, helped lead the Wildcats to a 10-3 record and a 27-24 win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl. The team’s finish was the Wildcats’ best finish in more than four decades. Allen’s success, along with teammate Benny Snell’s accomplishments have elevated Kentucky’s recruiting ability especially nationally. Lonnie Johnson, Mike Edwards, Derrick Baity and Darius West also have contributed to the team’s success during the past three seasons.

“Without a doubt with what Josh is doing and the way he represented us and the national awards that he won and all that exposure does nothing but help. And all the other players as well with Benny and Lonnie and Mike Edwards and Darius West and Derrick Baity you could go on and on. I am just proud of all of them … I will never forget what they have done for us. Most importantly, the relationships we have built. That is what you are always searching for and really they go hand and hand.

“When you have a team like that, that has gone through so many ups and downs and you become so close and they had great leadership and that is why we were successful and that is the foundation we have to build on. I just had a team meeting this morning and that is what I challenged the team with is that we are worried about the program, not just the team, but a program and building a program.”

Snell, Kentucky’s all-time leading rusher, isn’t ranked as high as Allen and other potential Kentucky draft picks this week, but Stoops isn’t concerned and said Snell will approach the next level the same as he did when he arrived in Lexington more than three years ago.

“That is what drives him and drives many successful people to have something behind the scenes that is driving them with a chip on their shoulder and how they live their live,” Stoops said. “That is Benny. Benny is no different right now then the day he walked in in many ways. You guys remember back to that first year Benny was here and me chuckling about ‘hey dude we are going to tackle you and going to hit you’ and him being so mad because he wanted every yard and that is a beautiful quality because he is the exact same way now.

“He is competitive and driven and it is hard to put a measure on that heart. Benny is going to be successful because that is just the way he is wired and he is going to work really hard. That is a great mentality to have because those yards are tough to come by in the SEC and look at the success he has had and they are hard to come by in the NFL. You need a player like that.”

HOAK CONSIDERS TRANSFER

Backup quarterback Gunnar Hoak has entered the transfer portal and likely will play the remainder of his collegiate career elsewhere, the senior signal caller announced Tuesday.

Hoak lost the quarterback competition to Terry Wilson last season and was expected to be Wilson’s backup against next season.

“Obviously, were a bit thin with Danny (Clark) moving on as well,” Stoops said. “We are not uncommon to that. Unfortunately, it is part of the situation right now with college football and college athletics and we have to deal with it. Gunnar and I had a great talk yesterday and he is great kid. As I told him, he really had a great spring and as I told y’all after one of the scrimmages, he really played well and as good as I have seen him play. I think you understand that because he is a competitor and he wants to play.”

Stoops added that Hoak could remain with Wildcats depending on his final decision.

“It is not a done deal that he goes somewhere else,” Stoops said. “I think he is going to look at it and check his options and I told him we would have another discussion about it at another time. We will see where that goes. I just want to be supportive of him and that decision. It does put us in a position where we are a little bit thin.”

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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