FOXBORO - The buzz cut is a clear sign of Ryan Allen's rookie status with the New England Patriots. Few rookies get past the last week of training camp without an assault to their locks or eyebrows by veterans who went through the same nonsense when they were younger.
The rookie from Louisiana Tech, however, didn't mind succumbing to the ritual. For him, the knowledge that he was a member of the Patriots was the culmination of a lot of hard work and effort.
"My immediate reaction was what an opportunity and a blessing it was to be a part of this organization, and to take it one step further and to be able to stay with this team and help them to be successful this year," Allen said Sunday in front of his Gillette Stadium locker, now officially his with the release of veteran Zoltan Mesko that ended a camp-long competition for the position.
"It was a little surreal," Allen said of the moment he learned he won. "It's a big step in someone's life. It's a dream that I've always had, and I'm willing to come in here and work every day to try to be better, to better myself, to be successful and to produce."
Allen and Mesko battled closely throughout the camp. Mesko had 14 punts and a 44.6-yard average, while Allen booted nine punts for a 45.9-yard average.
"I was confident in what I had done, and from a production standpoint, in what I gave," Allen said. "I was happy, but at the end of the day, I can't control any of the decisions the coaches make. I wasn't concerned or worried about that; whatever happens was meant to be, and that's the way it was going to be."
Allen said he wasn't surprised to learn he had made the team.
"It's just that you don't really know what's going to happen," he said, "and the best way to prepare for it is to expect anything and be flexible. That's kind of the outlook I've always had about things and I know everything happens for a reason. I truly believe in that, so just having that be my outlook on everything, it makes things a lot easier."
Those who believe that the punters and kickers exist in their own little practice world, separate from the rest of the team, may not be far from the truth. There's a lot of individual discipline required for a punter to improve his craft, Allen said.
"There's a high level of competition with yourself," he said, "and you have to maintain that each week, week in and week out. The way that college is, you have a scholarship and you're staying there pretty much, no matter what. This is a job and it can end any day, any week, and you have to perform and keep getting better."
He said he relished the opportunity to have worked with Mesko, as well as kicker Stephen Gostkowski and long-snapper Danny Aiken, during the preseason.
"Zoltan was a great competitor and a great guy," he said. "I learned a lot from him and I'm good friends with him. It was great to be under him, and Steve and Danny and have them bring me in and show me how things are done in the NFL. I was able to learn from them and it really helped me a lot.
"There's a few mechanical things I've learned," he added, "and just how to carry yourself as a professional, whether it's warming up or whether it's afterward, taking care of your body just being able to watch him and Steve and what they do on an every-day basis, you learn from it. And you should be able to. You should have open arms and be able to soak things up like a sponge when you're a rookie."
Allen said he also understands that his job security is only as secure as his last punt.
"It's just basically focusing on yourself and being confident, knowing that what got you here is your hard work, your ability and your production up to this point," he said. "And if you have a bad practice or you have a bad game, you just go back to the basics. That's something that I usually use and it's helped me up to this point.
"I don't think it's really the pressure of having one bad game and getting cut," he said. "You've just got to focus on yourself and fine-tune the small things every day."