UCLA receiver Kazmeir Allen ready to run following COVID bout and other setbacks

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Kazmeir Allen #19 of the UCLA Bruins in the third quarter at Rose Bowl on September 04, 2021 in Pasadena
UCLA's Kazmeir Allen has switched from running back to receiver this season and the move seems to have paid off for the redshirt junior and the Bruins. (Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

His first name is a playful twist on Prince’s “Pink Cashmere,” the unusual spelling and sound intended to make him memorable.

It was repeated like a chorus at the Rose Bowl on that sensational Saturday of a college debut three years ago.

Wow, Kazmeir Allen! Kazmeir Allen is the fastest guy on the field! That Kazmeir Allen is something!

The running back dashed into the UCLA record book that day, his 103 rushing yards against Cincinnati ranking second in school history for a freshman while salvaging an otherwise glum Bruins debut for coach Chip Kelly.

For most of the three years that followed, Kazmeir (pronounced Kazh-meer) was rarely uttered, like lyrics from a forgotten song.

He was used sparingly the rest of his freshman season. A lengthy academic suspension forced him to redshirt after appearing in only three games as a sophomore. Contact tracing and a vile case of COVID-19 essentially wiped out his 2020 season.

All of which makes what has happened during UCLA’s two games this season more like a reintroduction than a comeback.

Ladies and gentlemen, Kazmeir Allen!

He’s a receiver now, though Fresno State is undoubtedly bracing for the redshirt junior also to carry the ball and return kickoffs when the Bulldogs (2-1) face the No. 13 Bruins (2-0) on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.

Allen doesn’t care how he gets the ball, as long as he gets it.

“I just like the ball in my hands,” he said.

One sequence early in UCLA’s 38-27 victory over Louisiana State showed just a few of the ways in which the 5-foot-9, 175-pound dynamo can beat you.

He made the game’s first big play when he outran a defensive back and snagged a 36-yard catch along the sideline. On the next two plays, he carried the ball. In the second quarter, he took a short pass on a jet sweep.

“Versatile is definitely the word to use,” said quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a primary beneficiary of Allen’s many talents.

Allen’s speed as the California high school champion in the 100-meter dash (10.44 seconds) in 2018 was among the factors that made him one of Kelly’s top early recruits. He was the first player to verbally commit to UCLA upon the coach’s arrival.

UCLA running back Kazmeir Allen has his jersey pulled as a defender dives toward his legs while he runs with the ball.
UCLA running back Kazmeir Allen carries the ball during a game against Arizona State on Oct. 26, 2019, at the Rose Bowl. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Having recruited eventual NFL players De’Anthony Thomas, LaMichael James and Marcus Mariota while at Oregon, Kelly could spot budding talent. Allen might have been the most productive high school player he had ever seen.

“I mean, I think the first game we saw, he had 450 yards and eight touchdowns,” Kelly said of the Tulare Union High standout who broke the California high school record with 72 touchdowns as a senior. “You always hear people say that you can’t coach speed. You have someone who’s dynamic like Kaz, it’s a good weapon to have.”

Since that razor-sharp college debut, he has been a weapon largely sheathed. There was no choice but to sit Allen after he was among nine players sidelined by contact tracing two games into last season, missing a showdown against Oregon.

That didn’t make the decision any easier for him to accept as he watched the game on television.

“‘Contact tracing’ is some of the dumbest stuff I heard,” Allen tweeted that day. “If we have four negative test [sic] in a row we should be able to play, period.”

The precautions didn’t seem so senseless once Allen returned home and contracted the virus. Being a world-class athlete well outside the age range most likely to be ravaged by the disease couldn’t spare him from a slew of nasty symptoms.

There were headaches. Body aches. He lost 10 pounds. Also vanishing for six agonizing weeks were his sense of taste and smell. The illness was especially confounding since nobody else in his home got sick.

He was cleared to attend UCLA’s season finale against Stanford to support his teammates but was too exhausted to make it to the Rose Bowl.

“I physically couldn’t even go out there,” Allen said. “I was tired, I had to get my weight back up, it was a lot.”

Luckily for Allen, patience was in abundance. He had watched fellow UCLA running backs Josh Kelley and Demetric Felton Jr. make the NFL after setbacks, Kelley briefly falling out of the running backs rotation and Felton used sporadically before becoming the team’s primary ballcarrier.

Moving to receiver might be the spark Allen needed. It would more easily set up mismatches that could allow him to unleash his world-class speed while allowing him to absorb fewer hits.

“He’s going to run like an angry beast when he gets the ball,” said Brad Allen, Kazmeir’s father.

There will be extra incentive Saturday when Kazmeir faces a couple of former high school teammates who play for Fresno State. The university that’s located 45 minutes from his hometown also made a late recruiting push for the local star, trying to wedge itself into a race won by the Bruins in a runaway.

Like the song he was named after, Kazmeir was chasing true love:

Oh, this fire inside of me

Don't nobody realize

Oh, what you are to me

But baby you got to learn

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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