Russell Allen believed in himself, and at the same time, he was realistic.
This was Allen three years ago, when the idea of signing a long-term deal as part of the core of an NFL defense – something that happened late last week when the linebacker re-signed with the Jaguars – was a pretty distant dream.
Yes, Allen believed himself capable of playing in the NFL, but in May 2009, sitting in a room with 90 other players soon after signing with the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent . . . for that day, at least, confidence gave way to the reality of what faced him.
In the coming months, the team had to trim the roster to 53 players. Allen did the math, and considered his chances. Then, he called his wife.
"I'll be home soon," he said.
As it turned out, Allen couldn't have been more wrong.
Allen, a three-year veteran who played collegiately at San Diego State, not only made the Jaguars as a free agent rookie in 2009, he made the team again in 2010 and in 2011. He not only made the roster, he played a significant role defensively and on special teams in each of his first three NFL seasons.
Last Friday, he got the NFL version of a reward for those efforts, signing what has been reported as a three-year deal. That ensured he will remain with the organization for the foreseeable future and further established him as a core player for the defense and special teams.
"It's definitely satisfying," said Allen, who has played in every game in three NFL seasons, continuing a consecutive games streak that began in high school.
"It's such a privilege to play this game, especially with an organization I believe in. It's nice to be appreciated for what you can bring and what you have to offer. I feel like, finally, in a public way, I am being appreciated. I felt like that all along, but now everybody can kind of see that, too."
Allen said his belief in the Jaguars is real, and his connection to the organization? He said in a sense that began years before his NFL career.
In 2003, Allen was being recruited as a senior at Oceanside (Calif.) Vista High School. Allen eventually chose San Diego State in part because he was recruited heavily by then-San Diego State defensive coordinator Thom Kaumeyer, who by 2009 had been named the Jaguars' assistant secondary coach.
Allen said he figures that connection got him on Jacksonville's radar, and when he started talking to NFL teams that off-season, the feeling he got from the Jaguars was immediately positive.
"I remember telling my wife and my agent, both, 'Hopefully, this is the team that selects me,''' he said. "At the time, I was hoping to get drafted. When I didn't, we had a list in order of teams. The Jaguars were at the top of the list the whole way through. I knew they'd give me a fair opportunity."
Allen said despite being overwhelmed in his first meeting, he stayed confident. He also said he never felt as if not being drafted mattered.
"I always felt like I was given a fair chance," he said. "You definitely have to have confidence in yourself and your abilities. I also felt God had my family where he wanted us to be. We had a belief that we were there for a reason and we let it all hang out. We did that and it all worked out."
Given that opportunity, he took advantage. He registered 26 special teams tackles in his first two seasons, starting five games as a rookie and four games in his second season. This past season, he was second on the Jaguars behind two-time Pro Bowl special teams player Montell Owens with 12 special teams tackles and when starting outside 'backer Clint Session missed the last six games of the season with the aftereffects of a concussion, Allen again moved into the starting lineup.
"You have to see yourself as a starter, and you have to approach the game that way each and every week," Allen said. "From my personal experience, I've started five or six games and I've never been titled as 'the starter.' You're always one play away, especially when you're backing up three positions. I always felt like I was very much part of what we were doing."
Allen this past season finished with a career-high six starts, starting five of the last six games. He finished with a career-high 76 defensive tackles, two forced fumbles and four tackles for loss.
Heading into this off-season, Allen was scheduled to become a restricted free agent. The Jaguars tendered Allen to make it more difficult for him to leave, and shortly after free agency began, the sides agreed to a long-term contract that Allen said he considers more of a beginning than a benchmark.
"I feel like I still have a lot to prove," he said. "By no means am I going to take a deep breath. I still believe in myself as starter in the league and I believe I can play at that level given the opportunity. That's the goal for myself, to earn a full-time starting position."
That's a goal that is increasingly attainable, even if it's one that seemed far off during his first official team meeting three off-seasons ago.
"I figured right then I had no chance," he said this week with a laugh. "It was so overwhelming. Sure enough, here I am three years later. It's a blessing. It's great for my family, and it's obviously great to have the security, but on top of that, I'm happy to continue to be a part of this organization.
"They gave me a shot when no one else would, and I'm excited to continue to be a part of it."