Jake Allyn is a son of Dallas.
He graduated from Jesuit College Preparatory School, where he played football and basketball. He says, "Yes ma'am and yes sir." And if you ask him who he's with, he'll answer how most good Dallasites would.
"The 'Boys. ... I grew up watching every single game. I played high school football at Dallas Jesuit before playing in college," he said. "So I love the game and what's been amazing for me and that's even deepened my love for the Cowboys and Dallas [is] when the Cowboys play for three hours on Sunday afternoons and I pop it on on the TV, I'm back in Big D for three hours."
But he's repping another place these days.
He pledges allegiance to GAMU, the fictional Georgia A&M University of new BET drama The Quad. (Series creator Rob Hardy and star Anika Noni Rose both hail from Florida A&M University, a non-coincidence that hasn't escaped the notice of Allyn or FAMU alumni.) Allyn plays BoJohn Folsom, a small-town Texas quarterback working on his last chance.
The show airs Wednesday nights at 9.
The Quad traces the intersecting lives of several freshmen and employees of GAMU, including a new president (Rose), an autocratic band director (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) and a hard-working coach (Sean Blakemore).
"Big Bad Bo" Folsom is one of a quartet of highlighted freshmen that includes the president's rebellious daughter, a nascent rapper escaping his 'hood in Chicago and a musician desperate to join the Marching Mountain Cats.
He's the only white character with a big arc.
When BoJohn receives a personal visit from the GAMU coach and president, his father is blunt: "Is there any salt in your pepper?"
"[Race] is more than mentioned," Allyn says.
But the show that many may quickly write off as just about life at a historically black college or university (HBCU) has quickly become more bold than brassy and more universal.
"While there are parts of the show that are very specific to HBCUs, it's very much a college show," Allyn says. "It's about kids living away from home for the first time, administrators, coaches, teachers going through their own issues as adults ... trying to balance dealing with their own issues while at the same time molding young men and women, which is what a lot of the show is based around."
And Allyn's role seems particularly suited for the actor from around the way. He played all four years of college football at Cornell after graduating Jesuit.
"They may not know it. But it was made for me. There were a couple of times when we went and did the football day, to see if we could throw the football. They were like, 'Oh, you guys. You're all so good. You're making this so hard. The decision's so tough.' I remember I just blurted out, 'This decision ain't that hard.' I was like, was that out loud? I think in the back of their minds that they were saying, 'That's BoJohn'," he says.
"I got this role by auditioning my butt off for about two months straight."
The affable Allyn is quick with a smile and all in when it comes to The Quad, especially his historically significant co-stars. Guy starred in Spike Lee's School Daze and A Different World (now showing on Bounce TV). Rose voiced Disney's first black princess, Tiana, in The Princess and the Frog.
"You better have your stuff together, you can't mess around," he says after rattling off his co-stars' accomplishments with more high praise for Santiago-Hudson, who is directing on Broadway, and for Blakemore, with whom he shares a lot of scenes. "It's also like you love that because you wanna work with the best. So to have them there makes you work so much harder and you treat it so much better and with so much more respect when you're around this kind of talent."
Allyn realizes that he's more like his character trying to find a place on GAMU's by-all-accounts dismal football team than not.
"You know what was really unique for me in shooting the first episode? So BoJohn is coming to an all-black school where he knows nobody and has to prove himself partly because he's the one white guy there and he doesn't have that automatic respect or whatever given when you have a new teammate come in," he says. "And like that, to be honest, not that people were mean to me on set because I was white or something, but I'm pretty much one of the only white characters on the show and I definitely felt like, 'Hey, I wanna make sure that I'm as good as everybody else.' It's a BET show, which usually plays to predominately black audiences. But of course I want to come in and be part of the team. Just like BoJohn. So it really helped my performance being in that environment. As an actor, it was weird but really cool."
Basically, Allyn does more than throw the football around.
BoJohn's story will grow more complex, "especially in the second half of the season," he says. Viewers will find out more about the "emotional issues and some anger problems that he's dealing with or maybe not dealing with so well."
BET, which is rolling out more original content than ever, is betting on the denizens of The Quad to take it to the next level. The New Edition Story rolled out to high ratings and acclaim; Madiba, in which Laurence Fishburne stars as Nelson Mandela, is finishing up now; and Rebel will bow later this year.
Assures Allyn: "It's edgy, challenging and new."
Yes, sir. It's a whole new ballgame.