Devon Allen grows from life experiences outside of sports during rehab
Magnetized on the top right-hand corner of a white General Electric refrigerator is an 8×11 sheet of laminated paper. Look a little closer and you’ll see the title: DEVON’S GOALS. Take an even closer look and you’ll find three self-explanatory categories spread across the paper from left to right: short term, this year and next five years.
Oregon wide receiver and hurdler Devon Allen has been using this piece of laminated paper for the past eight years.
When Devon was a ninth-grader in Phoenix, Louis Allen, his single father, had an idea. The idea was to devise a system to help his two children — both in middle school at the time — set short-term and long-term goals. Louis was always a list person and believed it would help them achieve more.
The idea blossomed into a yearly family tradition where each member wrote out their yearly list of goals with a red dry erase marker that all sat side-by-side on the refrigerator door in the kitchen.
The laminated papers allow them to erase accomplished goals when they’re finished and edit those that need adjusting.
Devon did just that this year, erasing past goals and keeping an eye on those still ahead. Until the end of the 2014 football season, one of those goals was to win the inaugural College Football Playoff championship. He had to erase it.
Needless to say, it was a year that called for a lot of red smudges and self-reflection for the already well-accomplished dual athlete.
“No one wants to get hurt, but sometimes when you get hurt and miss out on things, one of the advantages is it makes you appreciate it more when you get back out there again,” wide receivers coach Matt Lubick said.
It’s been over eight months since Devon last saw a field or track in an Oregon uniform.
On Jan. 1, Devon entered the Rose Bowl Game against Florida State with 684 yards, a team-high seven touchdowns and a national title in the NCAA and U.S. Outdoor 110-meter hurdles. He tore a ligament in his right knee on the opening kickoff.
Those 20 yards in Pasadena would be the last he’d run in either sport for quite some time.
“He amazed me and actually inspired me and his teammates with the way he handled it,” Lubick said. “He never, ever once had a bad day.”
Fast forward to the first day after undergoing knee surgery. Devon’s lying in bed at home after a successful outpatient surgery and receives a text from Tim O’Neil, his high school track coach and family friend.
He told him, “Hey, congratulations on your day one of recovery.”
O’Neil, a former decathlete who also tore his ACL in college, acknowledged the hard work ahead for Devon. But he also believed in the type of kid Devon has become. He knew Devon was going to be just fine, if not stronger, as a person, athlete and student after going through the roughly year-long process.
“Any time we are faced with some obstacle, it makes us stronger and we learn how to adapt and become better in other areas,” O’Neil said. “I’m sure that he’ll parlay that [injury] into a strength at some point. That’s what really elite athletes do.”
Devon, who is eyeing a return against Michigan State, can now see his old high school coach’s point. He is looking to reap the benefits of resting his body in the offseason and has worked on deficiencies in the meantime, something he hadn’t had the luxury of doing before the injury.
“In any sport, injuries happen, so I feel like you got to learn from it and take the time while you’re not doing something to enjoy something else,” Devon said. “As an athlete, two-sport athlete especially, I was just doing sports 24/7. You have to look at the other things you’re doing in life. That’s what I did.”
In June, Devon had a unique opportunity to travel to the Dominican Republic to help build a basketball court for a roughly 1500-person Haitian community with 18 other Oregon student athletes through the non-profit O Heroes program. It wasn’t something Devon had initially planned on, considering the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships were still going that weekend.
But this past summer, the two sides connected by chance with openings in Devon’s schedule.
“It was one of those things that I never really thought about doing,” Devon said. “It was a crazy experience. It was hard work. But in the end, it was worth it.”
When Devon landed in the country, he didn’t know what to expect. Neither did the other 18 athletes that boarded the plane.
While laying the foundation for five hard days of work, Devon slept on foam pads in a local clinic next to a church that was surrounded by nets to fend off mosquitoes. He wasn’t in his comfort zone. He was simply dedicating his time to an experience that he may never be able to do again.
These are the types of priceless experiences that an older, rejuvenated Devon will soon carry as a lead receiver for the Ducks in the coming months. Devon may never be able to claim the feat of winning the inaugural college football title game. But he will, however, live the rest of his life with the memory of building a safe haven for future generations of Haitian kids to enjoy.
On paper, he has been out of commission for eight months. No football, no NCAA track championships.
But from Devon’s perspective, 2015 has been a year he will never forget. Not because of the accolades that he has earned or the untimeliness of his injury, but because these testing months have given him a glimpse into life beyond sports, while simultaneously reigniting his passion for them.
Waiting for Devon at home will be a little red smudge ready to be wiped away, a remnant of past successful years. Next to that red smudge though, there will also be one last goal, one that he’s been working towards since 2011, despite his injury.
It reads: “Olympic Games!”
Devon’s course may have veered in all types of directions since January, but the spirit of his plans remains unchanged.
If all goes according to plan, Devon will be wearing the red, white and blue in August 2016, representing Team USA in Rio de Janeiro and will wipe one more goal off the board.
“[These experiences] helped him grow,” Louis said. “We’ve always talked about big picture goals. He goes back to those goals that he has. There’s life after sports.”
This December, the Allen household will gather back in their kitchen around Christmas time to catch up and update their lists. There will be some erasing. There will surely be some writing.
Follow Hayden Kim on Twitter @HayDayKim