'I gotta at least try': Devon Allen returns to the football field
At 27, the Olympic hurdler thinks he needs to do more. "To be honest, I thought I would have accomplished more by [now.]"
EUGENE – For Devon Allen, the hardest part has been slowing down.
The two ACL tears that ended his football career only pushed him to become one of the world’s premiere hurdlers. He finished fifth in the 110-meter hurdles at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016 while still on the football roster. Last summer, he came in fourth in Tokyo.
For five years now, it’s been all track. Full speed ahead, no slowing down. But ever since that second torn ACL in Lincoln, Neb. in 2016, a return to the gridiron has been at the forefront of his mind.
Two months ago, Allen started running routes again. With his track coach Jamie Cook — a former high school quarterback who played two ways at Penn State — throwing him the ball, he began to unearth the football skills he began refining when he started playing at age five.
Just like hurdles, route running is exceedingly technical. He’s found solace in the similarities. There are certainly some differences.
“In track we never really practice specifically decelerating because we’re in spikes and it’s kind of dangerous,” Allen said. “But football, right? A big part of that is your ability to accelerate and decelerate.
“It's been a little bit difficult. But hopefully, you know, now that I'm doing football stuff, I'll be able to connect with more quarterbacks and get more consistent reps.”
It doesn’t seem like he’s lost much of a step.
At Oregon’s pro day on Friday afternoon, representatives from all 32 NFL teams packed the Moshofsky center. And on a day where nearly a dozen past and present Oregon football players — including a potential top-five pick in the NFL Draft in Kayvon Thibodeaux — worked out, it was Allen who drew the day’s most audible reactions.
More than five years after he left Oregon, Friday was Allen’s first pro day. The consensus among media members was that his best 40-yard-dash clocked in around 4.25 to 4.35 seconds.
“They didn’t expect the track guy to run slow,” he said. “It's just good to get a fast time on paper. That's why I ran it. I probably didn't have to run it.”
With last year’s Oregon starter Anthony Brown at quarterback, Allen flashed his route running. He ran seamlessly, with the poise and body control that once made him one of the nation’s scariest downfield weapons.
“It was great,” Brown said. “We were working with each other all week. Just being in the presence of him, he’s a light. I appreciate everything he did for me. He helped me out throughout the week, it wasn’t just catching and route running.”
Brown himself battled through a pair of season-ending knee injuries. Although he doesn’t have a pair of trips to the Olympics to show for it, there was plenty to be learned from the man who led the 2014 Ducks in receiving touchdowns.
When he announced in November of 2016 that he would forego the rest of his football eligibility to pursue a professional track career, Allen never called it a retirement. It was just a shifting of focus.
"My ideal scenario is to run track for the next couple years, then at the 2020 Olympics win a gold medal, have the world record, then I can put that to the side and play football," he said at the time.
Now, at 27, Allen has found immense success. He also thinks he’s underachieved.
“To be honest, I thought I would have accomplished more [by now],” he said. “I figured I'd be an Olympic medalist, if not a Gold medalist. I still got six or seven good years of track in me so I still got some opportunities to do that.”
Track is the still the priority for the immediate future. He hasn’t hired a football agent, and his training now shifts to prepare for the Track and Field World Championship this July in Eugene.
But then? Game on.
“The goal is to get ready for Worlds, compete at Worlds, win, break world records, do the whole thing,” he said. “Then, July 18, when the Worlds are done, go to [NFL training] camp… I have visions in my head to make it work. And I feel like that is quite possible.”
He added: “Whether my career is 10 years or just a short career, I gotta at least try. I don't want to be 40-50 years old and be like, ‘Man, I wish I would have tried.’”
— Shane Hoffmann
Shane Hoffmann is a senior journalism student at the University of Oregon and contributor to The I-5 Corridor. Follow him on Twitter at @shane_hoffmann
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