Thomas Allen got a preview of life after football — and discovered he wasn’t quite ready for that. But it was a decision that didn’t come easy.
During a season filled with historic high points, one memorable 2020 low stands out above the rest at the Allen household.
With his son on lying on the field clearly in agonizing pain at Michigan State, IU head coach Tom Allen looked on helplessly. The trainers had the diagnosis right away, and after father and son embraced just before Thomas was taken away for medical attention in the locker room at Spartan Stadium, both had already reached the same possibility.
“I remember when I got hurt I thought ‘oh my gosh did I just play my last football snap,'” Thomas said on Thursday in the team room inside Memorial Stadium.
The diagnosis they received was Thomas had suffered a dislocated hip and posterior wall fracture — a very serious injury with, as Thomas would soon discover, a long and painful recovery process. It is the kind of injury that makes you reassess your future when you play a physical game like football.
“I didn’t know if that was going to be it for him,” Tom Allen said in the spring. “He has had some serious injuries and you have to sit back and evaluate your whole future and what you want to do.”
Thomas had plenty of time to evaluate things — too much really. The first order of business in the rehabilitation process gave him all the time he needed to assess his future, and perhaps an insight into a world without football.
“You just kind of don’t do anything,” Thomas said. “I laid in bed for a while, you just kind of hang out and you’ve got to let your bone heal.”
This wasn’t Thomas’ first injury. His 2019 season ended after he suffered a season ending shoulder injury at Nebraska, and there have been other setbacks along the way. Already 23 years-old, married, and with a college degree in his possession, the decision to return for a fifth decision was not black and white.
“There definitely was decision, when you’ve had the injuries I’ve had you have to be able to look at the big picture and be able to see if it’s worth it,” Thomas said. “But at the end of the day I wanted to be able to finish the right way. I wanted to be able to help this team win, we have a special group as a team and in the linebacker room.”
When he finally got on his feet the progress was slow and painful. Thomas was on crutches for 6-8 weeks, but as he healed the conversations about his future continued.
And as dubious as things looked last November in East Lansing, the optimism grew as time went on, as did Thomas’ passion to play one more season for his father.
“I talked to my family, I talked to my fiancé at the time, now my wife (IU softball player Annika Baez), and we talked it all out, and the doctors felt good about me coming back and playing,” Thomas said.
With Thomas, his family and doctors all on the same page, he set out on the most challenging part of his rehabilitation process — the part where he prepared not just to walk normally again, but to be a linebacker in the Big Ten. As you would expect, that part was not without its excruciating moments.
“Our PT Jacob Laverman, he stretched me at times for my hip and it brought tears to my eyes,” Thomas said. “It’s the worst pain I’ve ever been in. I will never miss that, and I love him to death but I don’t ever want him to touch me again.”
While he is still dealing with some pain, Thomas has now made it all the way back. He’s been mostly a full participant at fall camp, and is expected to be part of the linebacker rotation at Iowa in just over a week.
But there is still a mental side to all of this, and Thomas is now trying to put his injuries behind him — and convince himself this is just how a Big Ten football player feels in August.
“I feel great,” he said. “When you’ve had the injury I have you’re going to have your ups and downs, and camp I don’t think it matters if you’ve had zero injuries or the amount of injuries I’ve had, you’re going to have some pain in camp.”
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