LINCOLN, Neb. – Taariq Allen introduced himself to Nebraska fans in a big way with a leaping touchdown catch that started the Cornhuskers' fourth-quarter rally against Northwestern.
They finally got to see what receivers coach Rich Fisher saw long ago.
It was summer 2009, and Allen was in the gym at the Boston-area high school where Fisher was head football coach. Allen had just transferred to the Rivers School and was dunking basketballs.
"Alley-oops, behind the back, 360s," Fisher said. "I was drooling. I figured I could do something with him."
Fisher helped Allen develop into one of New England's top Division I prospects. Shortly after Allen signed his letter of intent with Nebraska in 2011, Fisher accepted Huskers coach Bo Pelini's offer to lead the receiving corps.
The touchdown that pulled Nebraska within 28-23 with 5:55 left in the game last Saturday meant almost as much to Fisher as it did to Allen.
"Proud of him like a papa figure and a coach," Fisher said. "I know where he was, and to see where he's at now and what he's accomplished, it's just great stuff."
Allen positioned himself for more playing time this week when Nebraska (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) hosts No. 20 Michigan (5-2, 3-0) in a game that will give the winner the inside track to the Legends Division title.
Before last weekend, Allen's main contributions had come on the punt return and kickoff coverage units. As a receiver, he had one reception for 3 yards against Arkansas State. Taylor Martinez had thrown his way two other times — one was pass interference on Arkansas State, the second was a drop against Ohio State.
Allen's breakout against Northwestern came with the Huskers trailing 28-16, after Quincy Enunwa was shaken up making an over-the-middle catch to set up the Huskers at the Wildcats 8.
Allen lined up wide left, started to run a slant and then cut hard to his left to get a step on cornerback Daniel Jones.
Martinez double pumped and threw a perfectly placed high pass that Allen went up to snatch. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound redshirt freshman put his left foot down inbounds as he fell. He got up and ran toward fellow receiver Tim Marlowe on the sideline for a leaping chest bump.
"I didn't even know how to react to it," Allen said. "I knew we were still down, so I couldn't really celebrate how I wanted. That got the momentum going. That was a big play. I'll always remember that play."
Allen could really let loose about three minutes later when Ben Cotton scored the go-ahead TD in the Huskers' 29-28 win.
Allen said he received about 50 text messages from friends and family and about the same number on Facebook.
"Coming from Boston, there aren't a lot of people who get recruited to play Division I football," he said. "For me to go out there — being on TV and making plays — that was a big deal."
Before moving to the Rivers School, Allen had starred in football and basketball at Marblehead (Mass.) High School. He already had a football scholarship offer in hand from New Hampshire, but he thought he was capable of playing at a Bowl Subdivision school. His cousin, a star running back at the Rivers School, told him he could reach his goal if he put his trust in Fisher.
Allen excelled as a running back and receiver his first year at the Rivers School. Before Allen's senior season, Fisher, a longtime friend of Pelini's, urged him to attend Nebraska's football camp.
Allen impressed, and he went home with a scholarship offer. He thought it over for a couple months and then pledged to become the Huskers' first scholarship recruit from Massachusetts since 2002.
"It was a huge eye-opener for him as far as seeing the facilities," Fisher said. "When you're a little kid growing up in Boston, you probably hear about the University of Nebraska. But to step foot in here and be offered a scholarship to play here was a huge deal to him."
The Huskers worked Allen at safety and receiver at the camp and ended up liking him more on the offensive side.
Two weeks after Allen signed with the Huskers, Fisher was hired to fill the job vacated by Ted Gilmore's departure to Southern California.
Allen said he was glad his high school coach was joining him at Nebraska, but he said, "I knew I wasn't going to be handed anything. I knew I'd have to go out and work hard and do what I had to do to get on the field."
Winning that jump ball in the end zone Saturday should put Allen in position to be even more of a factor the rest of the season.
"Taylor put it in a place where nobody else could get it except for me," Allen said. "I did my job, tried to get open as fast as possible, as clean as possible. I saw the ball and made a play."