Thomas Allen got to run on the field at Indiana’s practice facility Tuesday morning and from a purely physical perspective it wasn’t the least bit enjoyable. His body made it extremely clear how long it had been since he was last able to push himself even to that limited extent.
“Did it feel great?” Allen asked himself. “No.”
But it did feel rewarding to know how far the Indiana junior linebacker already come and how much better a bad jog is from what he was feeling in November.
Allen’s injury in the Michigan State game, and his father Tom’s reaction to it, was part of what endeared the elder Allen to the college football world last season. It was raw, sincere, fatherly emotion in the middle of what was otherwise a dream football season for Indiana up until that point. But it came from the fact that both Tom and Thomas knew that the son was facing a brutal injury and recovery.
They quickly learned that the younger Allen had suffered a dislocated hip and posterior wall fracture, a very similar injury to the one that ended quarterback Tua Tagavailoa’s season at Alabama in 2019.
“The day that it all happened, the biggest thing I remember was the sick feeling in my gut when I was told what the injury was,” Tom Allen said. “They told me that out on the field. They knew right away his hip was out of the socket. I knew what that meant for the rest of this season and my mind even went to, I didn’t know if that was going to be it for him. He has had some serious injuries and you have to sit back and evaluate your whole future and what you want to do.”
It took Thomas a while before he was even ready to have those discussions because he had to get surgery and get back through the basics of functioning. For a while there wasn’t much of anything he could do that didn’t cause pain.
“The first four weeks after surgery I was just laying in bed not really doing anything,” the younger Allen said. “Couldn’t really move. It kind of hurt just getting up and going to the bathroom.”
Eventually he had those real discussions with his parents and family, but also with his fiancée Annika Baez, a senior who plays first base on the IU softball team. They are set to be married this summer and he wanted to make sure she had input, considering that if there is long-term effect to the injury, she will be the one who has to deal with it.
“She’s amazing,” Allen said. “… She’s definitely a better athlete than I am. She’s awesome. She is my rock. I couldn’t have done this without her. She’s helped me every step of the way and I couldn’t have done this without her.”
With her input and blessing, he eventually decided to push forward for one more season.
“At the end of the day, you only get to play Division I football once,” he said. “I want to finish my career the right way.”
He got some help from someone else who had been through the rehab process. Tagavailoa got in contact with him to offer encouragement and also a resource.
“He actually called me about two weeks after my surgery,” Allen said. “We talked and I had a crap ton of questions. Just kinda going through everything from how you’re supposed to feel right after, how you’re supposed to feel months from now. He gave me his number, he told me to text him any time. He was great to be able to just talk to because it is a very rare injury. There’s very few people you can ask about it.”
So Allen bought into the process which so far has involved a lot of lifting both upper body to maintain strength there and lower body to get power back in his legs. It’s a slow and arduous process but he can still see progress. He expects to be at or close to full-go in four months, which would have him ready by the end of July in time for fall camp.
“You just take it day-by-day,” Allen said. “A lot of ups and downs, a lot of just getting your legs back. … This kind of injury humbles you. It makes you realize how fortunate you are to play Division I sports and play football in the Big Ten. You have to take every opportunity. You don’t take anything for granted. A crappy run on the field is way better than not doing it at all. Putting that in perspective has really helped me.”
And the elder Allen believes he’ll make it the rest of the way and be ready for kickoff in 2021.
“He is a tough, tough kid,” Tom Allen said. “He works extremely hard. It is a painful rehab, painful as any as you have to try to get that hip movement back. But he’s right on schedule. He’s doing great. … He has every intention of finishing this thing out. I couldn’t be more proud of him. He’s a warrior.”
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