In the weeks leading up to Halloween, Shayne Allen got a head start on the festivities, going to practice as a transformer.
Leading up to his Comets' tussle with Erie-Prophetstown, the Newman junior masqueraded as the Panthers' locomotive-like fullback, Nick Williams, as a member of the scout team. Before the season finale against bitter rival Amboy, he played Clippers powder keg Jason Bontz.
He was convincing, yes?
"He was a brute," Newman coach Mike Papoccia said. "We looked at each other and said, 'Maybe we should put this kid at running back, instead of wide reciever.' But who would've known? He's so meek and mild."
As is often the case during All Hallows' Eve season, an adult had to step in and break up the fun before it got carried away and someone got hurt.
"He was running with abandon, almost to the point where we'd say, 'Get back to end. You're gonna hurt us,'" Papoccia said.
Interestingly, the experience reminded Allen of his childhood.
"It took me back to my middle-school days," he said. "It was pretty fun running around and trucking people."
While he also impressed his quarterback, A.J. Sharp – "I'm pretty sure he ran two people over on back-to-back plays. That was fun to watch," the senior field general said – the reality is that Allen's talents are best served as Sharp's go-to guy in the passing game.
Passing game? Newman Comets? The two entities might not sound like chocolate and peanut butter fused in the likeness of a pumpkin, but the Comets' ability to throw the ball has been a treat for their traditional ground-and-pound style.
Senior Jake Snow leads the Comets with 1,087 yards and 22 touchdowns on 111 carries. He's one of four Comets with at least 250 yards rushing and one of six with 100 or more.
Sharp hit the weight room hard in the offseason and says the resulting confidence has made him a much better quarterback. So does having a 6-foot-2, 185-pound target that catches anything thrown within full extension's reach.
Allen has caught 11 of the 31 passes Sharp has completed this season for 247 yards and one of the Comets' two touchdowns via the passing game.
"Shayne catches about everything that goes his way," Sharp said. "You just put it out there, and he goes and gets it. It's nice to be able to check the 'D' and see he's man-to-man. When he gets free and it's a good look, it's easy to hit him."
Papoccia and Sharp agree that Allen's humility make him a better player. Although all parties involved agree that a team-first approach is the cornerstone of Newman's success.
That's why Sharp is perfectly pleased to see the running backs celebrating the lion's share of Newman's scores.
"We don't care, as long as it gets in the end zone," Sharp said. "Them running it in actually helps us. They're so scared of our running backs, that our percentage of passes completed is so high."
It helps that Bryce Ivey is a great complement to Allen, who Pappocia says catches the ball with his hands better than any receiver Newman has boasted in some time.
Allen credits assistant coach Andy Accardi for training him to get his hands out front, rather than letting the ball get near his pads. He also points to jump ball-type drills that have honed his ability to go up and get the ball at its highest point.
And once he's up there, that's when holy moments happen.
"The most exciting thing is when the ball is in the air, it's coming my way, and everyone is silent, and it's all up to me," Allen said. "It's basically rare when you see Newman pass. Everyone is just watching the ball float and waiting to see if me or Bryce can go up and get it. Then, once we catch it, the crowd just explodes. That's my favorite part."
Allen has also worked hard at blocking and loves hearing that a running play is coming his way, his cutoff block the potential difference between a sharp single and a home run.
Relishing being part of every play he can is what has made Allen such a key cog in the Blue Machine.
"He doesn't care if he gets the ball thrown to him or not," Pappocia said. "He wants the ball run to his side, because he wants to feel part of that, maybe even more than catching the ball. But he lights up when he knows it's going to be thrown his way.
"He's a great kid, and Shane's the only one who doesn't think he's a great athlete."
What: 2A playoffs, first round – No. 5 Newman (8-1) at No. 4 Fieldcrest (8-1)
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Fieldcrest High School, Minonk
Twitter: Christopher Heimerman (@CHeimerman_SVM)