Carolina Panthers

Panthers out of playoffs, but that doesn’t lessen QB Kyle Allen’s ‘great opportunity’

Alabama wanted him. So did Notre Dame and Ohio State.

He was a top priority for his home state schools, Arizona State and Arizona, although he spurned both for Texas A&M.

Kyle Allen was the nation’s No. 1-ranked high school quarterback in 2014, leading a class that included Deshaun Watson, Deshone Kizer and Mason Rudolph. But even after transferring to Houston, going undrafted and working his way up from the practice squad, Allen remains one of the lucky ones — despite his five-star pedigree.

“It’s incredible,” Allen said. “To think, however many weeks ago I was sitting on my couch waiting for a team to call me and now I’m back here about to start an NFL game in my rookie season.

“It’s improbable. I always — I don’t want to say expected it but I believed in it. I just wanted to be prepared for this opportunity. I feel like I have been preparing the right way and I think I’m going to do great.”

Keeping his journey in perspective might come easier to Allen than most, given his proximity to one of football’s greatest “zero-to-hero” stories. Quarterback Kurt Warner’s son went to Desert Mountain (Ariz.) High School with Allen, who maintains a relationship with the Hall of Fame quarterback to this day.

Warner, who stocked shelves at a grocery store in Iowa before winning a Super Bowl with the then-St. Louis Rams, even reached out to Allen this week to offer words of encouragement. Knowing the trials others before him battled through kept the rookie motivated while he waited for that call back to the NFL.

“There’s so many of those stories out there,” Allen said. “Just to get an opportunity for me to be in a game like this, and hopefully further my career and get a win for us — it’s amazing. These great opportunities don’t really come around for that many people. Hearing those stories, it just gives people like us hope.”

Allen got his first game action last Sunday, filling in for injured quarterback Taylor Heinicke against the Atlanta Falcons and completing all four of his passes for 38 yards.

After landing on the active roster from his second stint on the Panthers’ practice squad, Allen described the moment as one he’d prepared for since he was released in September.

“Entering the game, I didn’t really have any nerves,” he said. “It was quick — Taylor’s down, you’ve got to go make plays now. The preparation has been there since the beginning, so it’s just going in, trust my eyes, trust my instincts and just play ball.

“I was just happy that I could do my job and do what I was told to do that week — go in if Taylor goes down.”

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Heinicke returned after hyperextending his elbow, refusing to leave the game despite clearly laboring. Heinicke told reporters that he knew how difficult these opportunities are to come by, and he wanted to persevere for the 10 other guys on the field with him.

The message resonated with Allen, who will make his first career start Sunday. when the Panthers visit the New Orleans Saints (1 p.m., FOX).

“There’s not a lot of people I know who would stay through that game and tough it out,” Allen said. “Taylor’s a person who knows these opportunities don’t come very often and he has to take full advantage of these opportunities. For him to tough it out like that, play not only for himself for other people on the field — I have a lot of respect for him.”

Now on his third stint with the Panthers — he was waived from their preseason roster before being added to and released from the practice squad in September — Allen has shown enough in practice to effect confidence in his coaches.

Even in his limited game action Sunday, offensive coordinator Norv Turner learned a decent amount about the Panthers’ third starting quarterback in as many weeks.

“You can tell, Kyle is very calm,” Turner said. “You can tell he’s played. He’s got a quick release, so it helps him get the ball to receivers quicker than some other guys. He’s capable of making plays.”

Those four passes he threw, as insignificant as they might be in the grand scheme of the Panthers’ 2018 season, were an affirmation for Allen of the benefits of staying the course.

He felt anxious as he waited helplessly on his couch in September, but on the field Sunday — that was a different feeling altogether.

“I just felt at home when I was back on the field,” he said. “It’s been a long time since I’d been on the field — since preseason, since college. When I was back out there it just felt right.”

Marcel Louis-Jacques, 704-358-5015: @Marcel_LJ