Allen’s Olympic run inspires Ducks
EUGENE — If the Star-Spangled Banner is played for Devon Allen in the medals ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, Mark Helfrich knows what his reaction will be.
Oregon’s fourth-year football head coach was already moved to tears after watching his supersonic wide receiver win the 110-meter hurdles final during the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials earlier this month at Hayward Field.
“I was tearing up that night and I get misty every time I sit down and think about it for a while because he’s such a good dude,” Helfrich said. “First of all, great family, great representation of who he is, our university and now our country.
“To be represented by that kid, that’s a lot of good things happening.”
Allen is the first collegian to win the 110 hurdles at the U.S. Trials since Renaldo Nehemiah of Maryland in 1980. He’s also the first to win both the NCAA championship (2014, 2016) and Olympic Trials titles since North Carolina Central’s Lee Calhoun in 1956.
“It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever felt in my life,” Allen said after crossing the finish line in 13.03 seconds, the second-fastest time in the world this year, and leaping into the stands to celebrate with his family.
Allen has had lofty goals since arriving at Oregon, where he has been an important part of a national championship in track and a memorable run to the College Football Playoff.
The confident 21-year-old even talked about winning the Heisman Trophy and Bowerman Award as a younger two-sport star.
Right now, Allen’s focus is on an Olympic gold medal, a lifelong dream that even a torn ACL suffered during the Ducks’ dominant victory over Florida State on Jan. 1, 2015, at the Rose Bowl couldn’t dash.
“I’m excited for him,” running back Royce Freeman said. “Especially after his injury, it’s well-deserved. He worked hard to accomplish that, and I really couldn’t think of anybody more deserving than that guy after his injury.”
Allen caught a team-high seven touchdowns during Marcus Mariota’s Heisman season in 2014. He watched helplessly on crutches as the Ducks lost the national title game to Ohio State 11 days after his serious knee injury.
During the 2015 season, Allen only had nine catches for 94 yards with no touchdowns in 12 games.
After sitting out of spring practice to focus on track, the world-class speed and ability to deliver clutch performances in the spotlight returned.
“We have a lot of very unrealistic discussions in recruiting sometimes,” Helfrich said on Allen’s drive to be great. “Just the distinct, viable, tangible possibility of playing in the NFL and participating in the Olympic Games was something, from Day 1, the guy had a plan and then a willingness and a desire to see it through.
“It has just been unbelievable.”
Allen has been an inspiration for the Ducks as they prepare for the start of fall camp on Aug. 8 without him.
“When I transferred from Cal, he was one of the first guys to reach out to me,” linebacker Johnny Ragin said. “It has been awesome to see him do well. He trains hard, he works hard and he deserves all the success that he’s getting. I talked to him the week leading up to the Trials. He was still in the weight room working out with us and stuff. He was getting a little workout in.
“It’s funny because we all had like little bullet points on our workout (goals). His was: Olympic Trials, get to Rio.”
Allen has said he plans to play football at Oregon this season.
“It is the biggest excuse and the longest excuse, the most eventful excuse, to miss fall camp I’ve ever seen,” Helfrich quipped. “And we’ll give him a couple days off.”
Of course, Allen’s athletic and financial outlook could all change, depending on what happens in Brazil and the doors the Olympics might open for the new face of American hurdling.
“If a guy leaves the program for all the right reasons, awesome,” Helfrich said. “If that comes — I don’t know whether it’s endorsements or all the other things that go along with that, if it’s what is right and what is best, great. If it’s not, then we’ll have that continual discussion. …
“As far as his long-term future, it’s to be determined. His focus and our focus is him winning the gold medal, and we’ll figure it out from there.”