A few days ago, Thomas Allen put on his shoes, tied the laces and went for a run.
It was his first jog since undergoing season-ending hip surgery in November; his first chance to return to a routine of normalcy. It was, without question, a milestone achievement in his recovery. The run, however, wasn’t easy. It was labored, a reminder of the time he had lost. And yet, with each step, Allen tried to remind himself of something else: things could be worse.
For a while this winter, things most definitely were worse. There was a point after his surgery when Allen couldn’t do much more than stay tucked inside his bed. Merely trying to stand up and go to the bathroom came with considerable pain, and a return to football activities felt awfully far away.
But Allen’s return feels closer now. He’s just past the midpoint of his rehab process, and already penciling himself into the Hoosiers’ plans for fall camp in August. These past four months have been hard, but Allen has chosen to find perspective in the challenges of it all.
“A crappy run on the field is way better than not doing it at all,” he said.
And yet, Allen strongly considered the alternative. He’s now had two consecutive seasons end prematurely because of injuries, the latest due to a dislocated hip — similar to the scary hip injury suffered by former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in 2019.
In Allen’s case, the injury was so serious that, moments after it happened in IU’s fourth game of the year on Nov. 14 at Michigan State, Allen’s father wondered if his son’s career might be over.
“When I was told what the injury was — and they told me that on the field because they knew right away that his hip was out of its socket — I knew what that meant for the rest of the season,” IU coach Tom Allen said. “My mind even went to, I didn’t know if that was going to be it. He’s had some serious injuries and you gotta sit back and evaluate your whole future and what you want to do.”
Time away from practice allowed Thomas Allen to do exactly that. He’s always wanted to coach, following his father and his grandfather in the family business. So while he began his recovery, Allen did what he could to lend a hand to the Hoosiers’ staff, assisting with film breakdowns and game planning during the second half of the season.
He also spent some time on the phone with Tagovailoa, who gave Allen a call two weeks after the surgery to help him understand what was ahead in the rehab process.
“I had a couple of questions, just from how you’re supposed to feel right after, how you’re supposed to feel four months from now,” Allen said. “He gave me his number and he told me to text him anytime. So 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. I remember talking to our (trainer) and him saying there’s not a lot of research to base what we’re going on at times, which kind of freaks you out.”
That left Allen with a decision to make: to return to the field, or begin his coaching career on his father’s staff. After conversations with his family, including his fiancé, he decided he’d give the game one more shot.
“You only get to play Division I football once,” Allen said. “I want to finish my career the right way.”
Right now, that means tying his laces and jogging through the discomfort, each hoofprint in the turf a step toward getting back to where he wants to be.
“He’s a tough kid,” Tom Allen said. “He works extremely hard. It’s a painful rehab. It’s as painful as probably any injury. You have to try and get that hip movement back. But he’s right on schedule. He’s doing great. I’m a little surprised he’s moving around as well as he is at this point, knowing what he’s been through. He has every intention of finishing this thing out. I couldn’t be more proud of him. He’s a warrior.”