“Your not just Thomas Allen, your Tom Allen’s son.”
You know all of that pressure that IU head coach Tom Allen feels as he tries to finally build a consistent winning program in Bloomington?
Take all of that….times two.
Allen’s son Thomas, a redshirt sophomore linebacker for the Hoosiers, is trying to establish his own career while simultaneously watching his dad do the same thing at Indiana.
If Thomas makes a mistake on the football field, it isn’t just his mistake. It costs his dad too.
That’s a heavy burden for a young man, and it’s something that the now 21 year old junior Allen has learned to cope with better as he enters his third season at Indiana.
“It’s different,” Thomas said. “It’s a thing you have to learn and take with a grain of salt. A year ago I took it a little more personal when I messed up. I felt like that’s how people see him.”
“But at the end of the day, no, my actions are my actions and his actions are his actions.”
Even as Thomas leads you to believe that he has been able to grow beyond the complexity of the situation, his next comment reminds you that this is something that he can never fully escape.
“But my name is his name, so at the end of the day I’ll be tied to him,” Thomas continued. “Which is cool, and it’s awesome, but sometimes it’s frustrating.”
The frustration part of it has led to some tense moments over the years between father and son, and that’s where another member of the family has had to step in.
“It takes some serious conversations that we’ve had over the years,” Thomas said. “It takes my mother (Tracy) a couple times getting involved and saying hey I don’t want to hear it because he complains to her at times and I complain, and sometimes she hears two different things.
“She had to sit us down one time and say hey, we can’t do this.”
Perhaps inspired in part by mom’s intervention, both father and son have learned how to better navigate their unique situation.
“I had to grow up,” Thomas said. “I had to be a little more mature with some things. I think he had to learn some things too.”
One thing they have learned is that while they have chosen to be part of the same team, both father and son still need their own space.
“It’s nice, I don’t live at home, I have my own apartment,” Thomas said. “It’s nice that I don’t go home every day and see him every day. You need space and time. Sometimes it can be too much.
Thomas lives with some of his teammates including redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Tuttle.
Teammates present one of the biggest challenges for anyone that decides to play for their parent.
Are they just on the team because their dad is the coach? Are they going to get to play more than they deserve?
It is “the stress of what everybody thinks about it,” as Thomas put it.
“People need to see that this isn’t Tom Allen’s kid,” Thomas said. “He’s just one of us.”
If you listen to the 6-foot-3, 240 pound Allen long enough, you might convince yourself that maybe it would have been easier to just play elsewhere.
But while acknowledging the warts, Thomas doesn’t regret his decision to play for his father.
“It’s not perfect,” he said. “But I would rather have this situation than playing somewhere else and never getting to see him. No matter what happens, I’m grateful for this last three years and hope for a lot more.”
Would he recommend to someone else that they play for their father?
“Oh without a doubt,” Thomas said.
Not only has Thomas learned to manage his unique situation on the team, he also saw success on the field in 2018 — his first season of game action after a redshirt 2017 season.
Thomas played in all 12 games and made 28 tackles, including 20 solo, one sack, and three for a loss. He also returned an interception for 30 yards against Iowa, and added academic All-Big Ten to his accomplishments for the season.
When it comes to the challenges of being Thomas Allen the player, a fall camp battle for playing time is underway.
Thomas is coming off of a shoulder surgery that slowed him down in the offseason. That hasn’t made things easier as he competes against two guys with blossoming college careers in James Miller and Micah McFadden, along with others.
In some respects the infusion of young talents behind him like Miller and McFadden is Thomas’ own doing.
Recruiting is one more thing that Thomas is uniquely qualified to handle.
If the family of a recruit wants to pressure test Tom Allen’s “Love Each Other” family culture, the son of the coach is certainly someone unique to talk to about it.
“I would say that I have a little bit more than the average role (when it comes to recruiting),” Allen said.
Even his sisters have been involved in recent years before they went off to college.
Thomas’ approach to the recruiting side is philosophically simple.
“You have to build relationships and show this is a family atmosphere,” he said.
“Everyone says they have a family atmosphere. It’s one thing to say it, and another thing to live it out.”
No one knows that better than the Allen family.
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