- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2005

Sometimes tailback Josh Allen cannot help but jump back on the field.

Take a damp day in practice last month as the Maryland football team prepared to face Virginia Tech. Allen felt fine, certainly good enough to test his surgically repaired left knee with a spin move on cornerback Josh Wilson.

Then there was a collective gasp as a ripple of fear cascaded throughout the team.

“I slipped and everybody started panicking and going crazy [and said] ‘You just sit out,’” Allen said. “I know they’re looking out for me and they don’t want me to get hurt again, but that can be frustrating.”

Allen was sore for a few days, but he still savored the fleeting sensation of performing the everyday tasks of a running back. Those duties mostly have been off-limits since Allen suffered a dislocated knee in the second quarter of last season’s finale against Wake Forest.

He remembers every detail of his last play, from quarterback Sam Hollenbach’s high throw to realizing a linebacker would tackle him just after he made the catch. Yet the linebacker instead went to knock the ball loose, forcing Allen to try to recapture the ball.

He planted his left leg on the ground and another player then fell on his knee. With all his weight on that leg, pretty much the entire lateral side of Allen’s left knee was shredded. He underwent surgery Dec. 3, a six-hour procedure six days after he suffered the injury. Doctors repaired six tears, including the ACL, PCL and LCL.

Allen wore a leg brace for 10 weeks, moving around on crutches during that stretch plus another two weeks after the brace was removed. The atrophy stunned the power rusher, who also was a star high jumper and triple jumper in high school.

“I felt like my left leg was gone,” Allen said. “Looking at it for the first time, taking those bandages off, it was sad. It almost brought tears to my eyes. That’s one of the things I’ve always prided myself on was the strength in my legs.”

He soon began lifting, though he needed surgery in early April to clear out some scar tissue. The manipulation, which bent Allen’s left leg, temporarily delayed his recovery but also allowed him to bend his knee more than 90 degrees. By June, he started running.

Along the way, Allen discovered ways to make the rehab process less dreary. A kinesiology major, he helped design his own workouts, using his background to make his recovery more efficient.

“I’ve felt weird about it sometimes,” Allen said. “I’ve thought ‘What’s wrong with you. You’re supposed to be mad and upset. You’re not supposed to be getting excited about your knee being torn up.’ I have to deal with it, I can’t change it, but just learning the different things that’s going on with my knee was pretty interesting.”

That didn’t alleviate all the frustrations of the last season. Allen’s injury came just weeks after his aunt Irene died. She and Allen’s mother, Inez, who died when Allen was 9, were twins, and Irene served as a maternal figure throughout the rest of Allen’s childhood.

Though he never seriously considered not returning — “[Maybe] for a split second. Then it’s like “I’m going to come back’” — the personal and athletic setbacks produced a rough experience for Allen.

“I think he’s had his moments when it’s been really tough,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. “My wife tutors him [for an anatomy class], so she gets pretty close to Josh. He’s been down at times.”

Never moreso than two days before Maryland opened the season against Navy. For months, Allen assured family and friends he was fine and his knee was continuing to improve. Yet he hadn’t entirely accepted he would sit out a season.

That changed when Friedgen announced game captains, and Allen lost “lost control” in front of his teammates for the first time since the injury.

“I had a feeling that was going to hit him, and it hit him hard knowing that excitement was starting to build and people were talking about the first game,” said junior linebacker David Holloway, one Allen’s roommates and a close friend. “He’s sitting there crushed because it’s in his mind that he’s not going to be out there.”

Allen now regularly participates in cutting drills in practice. He is also a demonstrative presence on Maryland’s sideline at Byrd Stadium, where he and injured freshman linebacker Erin Henderson have a good-natured competition to see which one can pump up their teammates and the crowd more.

Allen, who estimates he is at 80 percent strength, should be ready to return during spring practice. The addition of a tailback who has 1,941 yards and 21 touchdowns figures to help the Terps, especially one who believes his attention to flexibility during rehab will allow him to be a more explosive player upon his return.

“I can’t wait. I just want to hit pads again,” Allen said. “I tease a lot of the younger guys ‘Yeah, you haven’t had a chance to feel me yet, but you’re going to feel me in the spring.’ It’s going to be exciting.”

Holloway is eager to see his determined friend make it back, but Allen has picked up more than knowledge about his knee in the last year. The injury has made Allen appreciate the game, but he also is grateful he can do all the things outside of football he was accustomed to before getting hurt.

“I’ve learned a lot from it, about myself and about life and about the things I’m capable of mentally and physically …” said Allen. “I’ve been through tougher things. I love football, but there’s not moment in my life where I felt I couldn’t live without it.”

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