Allen Lazard on juggling, soccer and being 'at the top' as the Green Bay Packers' No. 1 receiver
GREEN BAY — One of the biggest tricks to juggling is to always keep your eye on the top. No matter how many balls are in the air, no matter the theatrics going on with your hands to amuse the audience, keep your eye on the top of the arc.
When Allen Lazard first picked up three balls and attempted to juggle, he was teaching himself, so he just went with what he knew. Hand-eye coordination, with an eye on the top.
“I should have good hand-eye coordination for that being my job and everything,” Lazard said, as he effortlessly kept three balls slicing through the air.
It’s the Thursday before the Packers home opener, which will be the debut for Lazard as the Green Bay Packers' No. 1 receiver after he missed Week 1 with an ankle injury. And while he may appear laid back, joking with his teammates about their inability to juggle while he keeps the tennis balls moving, this week and coming game are everything Lazard hoped for and worked toward.
Getting to this point meant being willing to do the hard stuff. Be it blocking, serving as a decoy, toiling on the practice squad. Lazard became a No. 1 receiver not because he’ll exhibit a skill-set to match Davante Adams, but because he built a skill-set by marrying talent and will.
“If he's in there,” offensive coordinator Adam Stenovich said, "he's going to do the dirty work, the blocking, the things you might not see on the stat sheet, but he's going to be physical."
That extends to meetings and practice as well.
“It’s always good to have him out there,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "He’s a talent. But it’s the leadership part we miss when he’s not out there."
Lazard was the No. 1 receiver on his high school team in Urbandale, Iowa, and was ranked by Rivals.com as the top recruit in the entire state of Iowa. He broke records at Iowa State, becoming the Cyclones' all-time program leading receiver in receptions and receiving yards. Neither came easy and it didn’t make the road smooth to the NFL.
He entered the league as an undrafted free agent, signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars. From there, his history is well documented and reads like a limerick about King Henry’s wives: waived, practice squad, signed off the practice squad by Green Bay, waived, practice squad, activated off the practice squad by Green Bay.
Now, the fourth-year receiver is ready to make his start as the Packers top receiver.
“I've been a No. 1 receiver my whole life until I came to the NFL," he said Wednesday, "so I don't know why I would change my mental view from that standpoint, just because I got to the league and there’s other guys around. And that's important.
"From a depth chart standpoint, obviously it's been different … but can’t change my mentality, I feel like, as far as how I go about my business.”
That mentality is, of course, to watch the top and get there.
In high school, Lazard and his friend Ryan Lillard began receiving Division I scholarship offers: Lazard for football, Lillard for baseball. The two would often talk about where they were and were they wanted to go, where they wanted to be. The answer would always circle back to the same idea: they wanted to be at the top.
“We started saying that we live our lives at the top," Lazard said, "and it just kind of helped us put a title or a name to like how we had our mindset and how we went about our business every single day and just knowing that we had to wake up and be the best version of ourselves, regardless of whatever yesterday had happened or whatever the future holds.”
“At the Top” is now a calling card, a motto and a business for Lazard and Lillard, with a product store, logos and the works. Before each game, Lazard takes to the field and warms up with an “At the Top” embossed soccer ball. The motto and the action is a reminder for the receiver.
“It’s been a routine for my third year now," he said. "I warm up with the soccer ball every day, practice, game. So it's been my thing and just kind of be able to clear my mind and be able to focus in on what's at hand.
“I just wanted to start playing soccer. I like juggling. I think juggling is really good for balance and control. Understanding your body movements and everything; puts you in very uncomfortable positions.”
Juggling in this instance relates to the act with a soccer ball, “juggling” off the knee. But the concept is the same, as is the lesson: don’t lose sight of the top.
As Lazard takes the field Sunday against the Chicago Bears, it may be his first time on the depth chart as the No. 1 receiver, but for the receiver, it’s simply a manifestation of his life mantra, to be at the top.
“I think it’s a great representation," he said, "and just putting a title in a sense to what my mindset has been and my belief in myself.”