The NW hurdler at the world track championship in Eugene also has his eye on his football career
It’s rare for athletes to compete and excel in two professional sports, especially ones as grueling as football or hurdle sprinting. But a Seattle-born speedster who raced track and played football at the University of Oregon is now attempting this rare feat.
Devon Allen, 27, will be in the spotlight this weekend in the 110 meter hurdles at the World Championships in Athletics in Eugene.
It’s kind of a homecoming for Allen. The big event takes place at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field, the same track where Allen played in college and where he qualified for the last two U.S. Olympic teams in the 110-meter hurdles.
“It’s really comfortable,” Allen said trackside after a qualifying run in late June. “That’s where I was training.”
Allen also played wide receiver for the Oregon Ducks in college and went to the Rose Bowl. During his freshman year, he made a choice. He turned professional as a runner and was sponsored by Nike. But now, more than half a decade later, Allen says he misses football. So last spring, he returned to his alma mater to train for NFL scouts with this year’s crop of draft prospects on Oregon’s pro day. The two-time Olympian ended up signing a free agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do my whole life,” Allen said. “I have the opportunity now, so I’m going to take it and go for it.”
Allen will have to compete with a deep receiving corps for a spot on the Eagles’ regular season roster. His three-year contract with the NFL for $2.5 million (subject to team build) came with the understanding that Allen has no plans to give up the professional race. .
“During the football season, I’ll be playing football. Then once February comes around, and we win the Super Bowl, hopefully, I’ll come back and start training for the track,” Allen said during a press conference before a meeting in Paris last month.
His decision to play two professional sports has sparked many questions about why Allen would once again be at risk of serious injury on the football field as he nears the top of the pro track. Allen played down his concern about it.
“I was fine when I was in college,” Allen said of his recovery from surgeries to repair both knees after separate ACL tears. “My injuries were non-contact anyway. It’s not like I got hurt by someone hitting me. But I’m not going to think about it too much.”
There is historical precedent for what Allen is trying to do, balancing two professional sports in the same year. But longtime Seattle sportswriter Art Thiel said it was really hard to pull off and rarely sustainable.
A relevant example is former world record holder in the 110 meter hurdles, Renaldo Nehemiah. Nehemiah played wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers for three seasons in the early ’80s. Thiel recalled that the quick hurdler would give defenders fits, but “Skeets,” as he was nicknamed, underperformed when it came to ball handling.
“It was an example – at least for much of the football community – that just because you’re a great track athlete doesn’t mean you’re going to be a great football player,” Thiel said in a statement. interview. “These are totally different disciplines.”
Allen says he spoke to Nehemiah, 63, last month about the elder champion’s dual-sport career. Allen said one thing that stuck in his mind from that conversation was that Nehemiah had to give up the track while playing for the 49ers due to outdated rules to protect amateurism in Olympic sports. Nehemiah returned to the track in 1986 when he was cut by the 49ers. Allen doesn’t have to make a choice today.
Others have gone ahead with mixed success
Another athlete who felt pressured to play a second professional sport was Chicago Bulls great Michael Jordan. His Airness took an 18-month hiatus to play minor league baseball during a season in which he posted a forgettable .202 batting average.
Then there’s Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who joined the New York Yankees for baseball spring training in 2019. It lasted six days and Thiel viewed it mostly as an off-season publicity stunt. .
The best case examples of Thiel include Bo Jackson, who excelled in professional football and baseball from the late 80s to the early 90s. And from the same era there is Deion Sanders, who enjoyed success crossed paths on the football field as a Hall of Fame cornerback and in Major League Baseball as an outfielder.
“He’s the only player to have appeared in both the World Series and the Super Bowl,” Thiel of Sanders said. “So it’s possible but it’s extremely rare.”
Further down the sports annals, Thiel also gloated in the career of former WSU Cougar Gene Conley. Conley juggled overlapping baseball and basketball pro stints to win a World Series ring with the Milwaukee Braves in 1957 and three NBA titles with the Boston Celtics (1959-61).
Sports fans and the simply curious won’t have to wait long to see how dual-sport stardom plays out for Devon Allen. On July 16 and 17, Allen competed in three rounds of the 110 meter hurdles at the World Championships in Athletics in Eugene. Less than two weeks later, he is scheduled to attend Philadelphia Eagles training camp to prepare for the 2022 NFL season.
As far as this weekend’s events go, Allen has the world’s best time in the 110-meter hurdles this year – a 12.84-second win at the New York Grand Prix in June. Allen’s main rivals in Eugene include defending Olympic champion Hansle Parchment of Jamaica and Allen’s American teammates Trey Cunningham, Daniel Roberts and Grant Holloway. Holloway is the 2019 world champion and has a personal best of 12.81. Another interesting fact about Holloway is that he too, like Allen, excelled in football and track simultaneously during his youth. But Holloway turned down a football scholarship from the University of Georgia and focused on sprinting since college.
Allen may be running with a heavy heart this month because his father, Louis Allen Jr., died suddenly in late June at the age of 63 from an unspecified illness.