CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kyle Allen realized it was a monumental gamble to turn pro after his junior season of college, knowing he wouldn't be selected in the NFL draft.
But the Carolina Panthers improbable starting quarterback said it was chance he was willing to take.
"I was ready to bet on myself because I thought I had the ability," Allen said. "... As an undrafted quarterback in this league, you have to keep betting on yourself because nobody else is going to."
Allen will make his third NFL start on Sunday when the Panthers visit the Houston Texans. It is a meteoric rise for someone who failed make Carolina's opening day roster in 2018 and was without a job for seven weeks last season.
But an injury to franchise QB Cam Newton, an unwavering internal confidence and a knack for taking advantage of opportunities has thrust Allen into the spotlight in Carolina.
He's 2-0 as a starter, including a four-touchdown pass performance last Sunday in a 38-20 win over the Arizona Cardinals. That followed a Week 17 last season against the Saints after the Panthers had been eliminated from playoff contention.
On Sunday Allen electrified a team in dire need of a win after starting the season 0-2 at home with Newton at the helm. In a game where it felt like the season might be teetering on the brink, Allen completed 19 of 26 passes for 261 yards and finished with a QB rating of 144.4.
And he made it look easy.
But nothing has been easy for Allen.
The No. 1-rated quarterback in the nation coming out of high school, Allen struggled in his first two seasons at Texas A&M and was benched for Kyler Murray. He transferred to Houston, sat out one year and played three games as a junior before being benched again.
Other players might have considered returning for a senior season or even transferring again.
"I knew going into (the draft) I was probably going to go undrafted," Allen said. "I mean, I knew. I got benched the third week of the season. I'm self-aware."
That meant signing a league minimum contract as a free agent.
Allen made $56,470 in his brief stint with the Panthers last season after the team signed him to the 53-man roster late in the season, according to Spotrac. This year he's making $495,000, a far cry from Newton's average yearly salary of $20.7 million.
"Guys that succeed as undrafted free agents are those guys that do exude confidence," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "That's one of the things that helps set him apart from guys when you watch him in practice. Just having watched him the last two training camps, you see it. He's got a lot of confidence in his own ability."
And the determination.
Allen said going undrafted is "ingrained" in who he is as a person.
"Until you keep proving yourself, it's a week-to-week thing," Allen said. "You have to show up every single day because you're not going to get as many opportunities as everybody else. I think it's shaped me."
Jake Delhomme can relate.
Delhomme was also an undrafted quarterback who played seven seasons in Carolina, leading the team to its first Super Bowl in 2003 setting all sorts of franchise passing records along the way — most of which have since been broken by Newton.
"As an undrafted quarterback, you have to keep at it because you aren't going to get the chances that a first-round pick is going to get," Delhomme said. "There's only one quarterback on the field and there's only one ball. You don't get many reps."
Delhomme recalled something he learned from Tony Robichaux, the late baseball coach at his alma mater Louisiana Lafayette, who told him, "You have to work while you wait."
He said that means simulating plays and decisions in your head while other QBs take reps in practice and games.
"Look, you have to put in the time and if you're not ready when your number is called, you're going to get exposed," Delhomme said. "And if you get exposed as an undrafted quarterback, you might not ever get another opportunity."
Allen gets that.
That's why he's constantly studying film, and why trying to take advantage of this opportunity, knowing that once Newton returns from a mid-foot sprain he's expected to be the starter.
But for now, Allen will keep betting on himself.
NOTES: Panthers outside linebacker Bruce Irvin is expected to see his first action of the season Sunday after missing the first three games with a hamstring injury. Cornerback Donte Jackson, who had two interceptions against Arizona, did not practice due to a groin injury.
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