Devon Allen sat alone in the training room at the Brophy Sports Complex in Phoenix as he placed bags of ice on both knees and wrapped them with plastic.
These legs are the key to his future, so it’s best to tend to them carefully.
The Brophy junior is only a few days removed from one of the most impressive individual performances ever by an Arizona track athlete.
He went to Arcadia, Calif. for the Arcadia Invitational last weekend to compete against many of the country’s top athletes. By the time he left, he had meet victories and state records in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles, a win in the 200-meter dash and ran a leg in the team’s victorious 400-meter relay. He was named the meet’s Male Outstanding Performer.
“Crazy,” he said.
Allen’s times of 13.52 seconds in the 110-meter hurdles and 36.39 seconds in the 300 are the second-fastest nationally this year among high schoolers, causing him to seriously consider a professional future in track.
This summer, he will also take recruiting trips to some of the most successful college football programs in the country. After an impressive junior season, Allen is rated as the 15th-best wide receiver in the country by Rivals.com.
The question does not have to be answered soon, but it’s begging to be asked: Football or track? A shot at Olympic glory or the NFL?
“You can’t really go wrong,” Allen said. “Once you compete at a high enough level, you’re going to get the publicity. You’re going to be famous. That’s the thing everybody’s looking for, to be known walking down the street. I know football is a lot bigger, but whatever ends up happening, I’ll be doing something I love.”
Ryan Milus had the same choice to make after exploding onto the scene as a senior sprinter at Hamilton in 2009. He had a football scholarship to Arizona and had already signed his National Letter of Intent, but then tied the state record in the 100-meter dash and won state.
With a father who coaches the defensive backs for the Denver Broncos, it wasn’t easy, but Milus eventually chose track. He gave up football without ever playing a collegiate down to focus on the sprints.
He now runs for Arizona State.
“I considered trying to do both, but I knew I had to bulk up for the football season, and I thought that would affect my track career,” Milus said. “Going from bulking up to slimming down, I didn’t want to do that process (every year). I wanted to focus on track to see where that took me. I miss (football) a little bit, but I’m happy with my decision. I think I made a good one.”
Allen’s frame is bigger, which wouldn’t force the constant weight gain and loss.
He is intent on doing both football and track as a freshman, and while his college destination will center on football, participating in both is an important requirement.
Plus, there have been athletes who made it work.
Willie Gault was an NFL receiver for 11 seasons and would have been an Olympian had the U.S. not boycotted the Summer Olympics in 1980.
More recently, Jacoby Ford starred in track and football at Clemson and now plays wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders.
Milus focused solely on track because he believed the specialization would further his career. If he played football, he would have missed out on the 14-week fall track program and would have split time between the sports during spring football.
“If I would have done both, I would have been OK at two of them, but I wanted to become great at one,” Milus said.
Allen’s ceiling may be higher in track, but football has a special lure. Outside of the Olympics, there isn’t nearly the same showcase for track athletes as there is with football.
Furthermore, NFL stars make millions of dollars, and the money will be a factor in Allen’s decision, he said.
Milus admits that if he left high school 20 pounds heavier, he probably would have played football.
But Brophy hurdles coach Tim O’Neil doesn’t hesitate when asked about Allen’s future.
“I love his football abilities, but let’s put things in perspective,” he said. “He’s top-2 in the U.S. (in hurdles). Was he top-2 in the U.S. (at wide receiver) after his football season?
“It’s night and day. He’s already the best (hurdler) in Arizona history, by far, and it’s early in his junior year. He’s got a huge upside.”
Milus made such a mark as a senior sprinter, it made him reconsider his options, and that could happen to Allen.
Allen may burst onto the football scene as a true freshman in college and never step foot on a track. He may redshirt in football and then star in the hurdles, never to touch the gridiron again.
“It really depends on how things pan out,” Allen said. “If I do well in football my freshman year, I might just play football. If I do well in track, I might just want to run track. You never know.”
More than likely, Allen will choose one sport over the other at some point.
When Milus opted for track, he said people questioned his decision, and they may do the same to Allen.
But for so many prospective athletes, competing in any collegiate sport would be a dream come true. Debating between NFL and Olympic aspirations shouldn’t keep Allen up at night.
“It’s a good problem to have,” O’Neil said.