PHOENIX – As a member of the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad, Devon Allen won’t be in pads for Super Bowl 57. He’ll be in street clothes Sunday at State Farm Stadium, on the sidelines or in a sky box, but Allen will still be the only one in the arena to own a unique and special piece of history.
Not many athletes have appeared in both the Olympics and the Super Bowl. Allen, a two-time Olympian and Eagles wide receiver, isn’t just living a dream. He’s doing it in what’s virtually his backyard.
Coming back home to Phoenix for football’s greatest week has been a literal dream come true for Allen.
“It’s pretty cool for one to accomplish my dream of getting the chance to play in the NFL,” Allen said in a Zoom interview. “I’ve ran in the Olympics already (in 2016 and 2020) and then to be home for my first Super Bowl in my hometown, which is pretty cool, as well. It’s kind of like a book story.”
That story started at Brophy College Prep in Phoenix, where Allen stamped his mark on the school that will never be forgotten. In 2013, during his senior year, Allen set the track team school record for the 110-meter hurdle with a 13.48 time, as well as the Brophy Sports Complex stadium record with a 13.62 time.
Fast forward a decade or so to when Allen became a member of the Eagles practice squad in August, then remained with the team throughout the season and into the playoffs. He joins the likes of NFL Hall of Famer Rod Woodson as an athlete who played in the NFL and specifically ran the 110-meter hurdles. Woodson posted a 13.29 time during his senior season at Purdue University, while Allen posted an all-time NCAA championship record time of 13.16. when he was representing the University of Oregon.
Brophy track and field coach Bill Kalkman knew Allen would be special, but one event in particular solidified his thoughts. It happened during the 2013 Arcadia Invitational, the largest high school track and field event in the United States.
Allen specialized in the 110-meter hurdles and it showed, as he posted a 13.78 time, finishing nearly 0.2 seconds ahead of the second-place winner. He also contributed to the school’s first-place finish in the 4×100 meter relay with a 42.19 time, nearly two seconds faster than the second-place school, Rocky Mountain High School in Colorado.
Kalkman explained how Allen participating in track and field, as well as football, served as an advantage for him throughout his athletic career.
“It was a little natural for him to do both sports he had played so I would say that it was the biggest surprise that the balance was a fantastic combination,” Kalkman said. “Football is a team sport. Track is an individual sport. It’s really a nice natural fit and an annual cycle for an athlete to get away from football to track and field.”
That cycle began in the fall of 2010, as Allen made the varsity football team in three consecutive seasons. As a sophomore, Allen had 60 catches for 915 yards and six touchdowns. His junior year he grabbed 44 receptions for 844 yards and 14 touchdowns and capped off his high school career the next season with 43 receptions for 749 and nine touchdowns.
Former Brophy Varsity football coach Scooter Molander said he was immediately struck by Allen for several reasons.
“Just an absolutely amazing athlete … pure athleticism. Probably the best athletes that I have ever had the opportunity to work with,” Molander said. “Equally a great person and a very hard worker as well. He was a fine student in the classroom and really represented Brophy College Prep in a tremendous way.”
One moment in particular will forever be ingrained in Molander’s mind. Allen, then a sophomore, went up against Mountain Ridge High School in the first round of the playoffs in 2011. He caught two passes in double coverage en route to helping the Broncos win 24-17. Molander knew then that Allen was elite.
“It looks so effortless as to how he increased his speed to go get the ball and catch a ball in stride and this was after him catching other long touchdowns during the season,” Molander said. “So it’s not like they didn’t know that he could run or that we would go deep. They (Mountain Ridge) knew it, and they couldn’t do anything about it. That’s where I understood why this guy is on a different level.”
As the sixth-best receiver in Arizona’s 2013 graduating class and the top 110-meter hurdler in the state, Allen, a four-star recruit, played wide receiver for the Oregon Ducks for three years, but began to focus more on track after leaving college.
Before then, Allen described how Kalkman’s approach revolved around working hard but also giving his 110-meter hurdle record holder a bit more flexibility.
“I think with coach Kalkman, he kind of instilled a lot in terms of working hard, and just kind of trying what I want to do,” Allen said. “On the track side, he was like, ‘Hey, what event (do) you want to do this week?’ and that was a plan that my hurdle coach in high school, Tim O’Neill, and I had.”
Allen took some of the lessons he learned from both Molander and Kalkman to the Northwest. “Scooter (Molander) was very intense and intentful in his training and working out, and I started to understand the benefits of a little bit of extra work for a little bit of extra time doing something,” Allen said.
Allen recalled how during his sophomore season, he and former Brophy quarterback Tyler Bruggman would practice their route tree for about five to 10 minutes every day after practice.
Allen continued to shine on the football field during his redshirt sophomore season at Oregon, hauling in 41 catches for 684 yards and seven touchdowns. Through the first seven games of the season, the Brophy alum caught passes for 440 yards before suffering an injury that sidelined him the last two games of the season. His second and third seasons were riddled with injuries and pushed his momentum towards hurdling into full stride.
During his third year, Allen suffered a knee injury that would really shift his focus towards the track.
“I was like, man, this is kind of frustrating. I just spent the whole last year recovering from a knee injury and got healthy enough to win an Olympic trials and make it to the Olympics. Now I’m having to do this whole thing over again,” Allen said.
Though he was hesitant to stick to a singular sport, the Arizona native had his most accomplished year in track and field during his senior season, where records upon records were set. In 2016, he placed first and recorded personal bests in the 110-meter hurdles during the Pac-12 championship (13.61) and in the outdoor 110-meter hurdles in the NCAA championship (13.50).
Even with these astonishing numbers, Kalkman was not surprised. He emphasized how Allen finishing as the top or second best hurdler in the country as a junior and senior in high school can translate over to the collegiate level without many problems.
Molander, however, thought the contrary, as he was more surprised by how easily Allen made the transition from one sport to the other.
“The greatest hurdlers in the world, their head never changes height. In other words, as you’re going over the hurdles, his head would not bog at all and that doesn’t normally happen until you’ve done it for years upon years to get to that technique level,” Molander said. “Additionally, it just looks effortless. When you see a great athlete, they make it look easy, even though it’s not.”
Allen’s full range of athleticism was on display during the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, his second backyard, where he ran a 13.03 time to take first place in the 110-meter Olympic qualifier.
When the COVID-19 Olympics shut down much of the world and postponed the Tokyo Olympics, Allen began to dream again of making it in the NFL. After all, he had been competing as a professional athlete for years, albeit in a non-contact sport.
“It’s not like I was sitting on the couch right and not doing anything. I’ve kind of learned and grown as an athlete and matured in the sense of knowing how to take care of my body and knowing how to recover,” Allen said. “Being a rookie coming into the NFL from college, a lot of those guys don’t really know what’s going on, and they kind of like, get hit in the face and they’re kind of overwhelmed. So I was able to kind of bring that experience and expertise into my rookie year.”
Competing in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where he placed fifth, and in Tokyo, where he came in fourth, seemed to prepare Allen for the Super Bowl. He talked about how he’s handling being involved in two of the biggest sporting events in the world.
“There’s not much more pressure on an athlete than an Olympic final. I’ve competed in those two (Olympic) Games, and dealt with pressure and dealt with anxiety as an athlete, and being able to overcome that and compete puts you in a space to where there’s nothing too big,” Allen said. “It’s the Super Bowl. It’s the biggest game in our sport of football but for me, it’s just another game and you have to prepare the same way. Nothing changes other than the name of the game.”
Molander wasn’t surprised when he found out that his former wide receiver would be part of a team playing in one of the biggest games in the world. “It was amazing yet not amazing,” Molander said, “because every goal that he’s written down, he’s achieved.”
The support and presence of Allen’s family have always been strong, especially right before he left for Rio. Allen was baptized in front of his family by his team pastor, Josh Bidwell. He wanted to wait until his family was with him for the 2016 Olympic trials.
Unfortunately, it would be one of the last remaining moments with his father, Louis Allen, who died at 63, just days before his son qualified for the 2022 World Championships. As Allen prepared for his first Super Bowl, he paused and reflected on what it would have meant for his dad to be here with him, with the NFL title game taking place in what is virtually their backyard.
“For one, he would definitely be very proud. I think for the most part, he knew it was going to happen just like I knew it was gonna happen. I think the way my life’s going right now, it’s kind of exactly how I pictured it,” Allen said.
“I’m sure this was the same vision that he had when he was taking me to football practice when I was 6, 7 years old and taking me to track practice sitting there for two, three hours watching me train when I was 10. He was like, This kid has got it.’”
With an Eagles win over the Chiefs on Sunday, Allen will achieve his true dream of being part of a Super Bowl team and competing in the Olympics. Even as a practice squad player, he will receive a shiny diamond ring and a hefty paycheck, along with plenty of memories of an athletic career coming full circle in his hometown.