The last time Devon Allen competed on one of the biggest stages in sports, his night ended quickly.
This was New Year’s Day 2015. The freshman who'd had seven college touchdowns and a 110-yard performance against Michigan State was standing in a Pasadena end zone. He was ready to receive the opening kickoff in the College Football Playoff's first-ever semifinal.
Allen shook one tackler, but a Seminole spun him down at Oregon’s 20-yard line. The Rose Bowl was underway.
But something was amiss. He lumbered toward the Oregon sideline. He'd never join Marcus Mariota and the Ducks’ offense on that field.
Allen became a footnote in one of the more memorable games of that season, one that ended a two-year winning streak for Florida State and sent Oregon to a National Championship it would lose to Ohio State. He had torn his right ACL, and his season was over. He returned nine months later, but his numbers fell off from 2014.
"Obviously, it’s a little frustrating as an athlete to be injured," Allen said in an interview with SB Nation. "But I knew that eventually I would be okay. It just took time and a lot of extra stuff, a lot of extra work that I probably wouldn’t have done if I wasn’t hurt."
Allen worked toward more than playing more football for the Ducks.
He's also an Oregon track runner. He was 2014's national champion in the 110-meter hurdles sprint. In early July, Allen won the U.S. Olympic Trial in the same race, winning a chance to represent America in Rio de Janeiro in August.
And he has even more goals.
"Making the National Championship -- unfortunately I didn’t get to play, because I was injured -- and then winning a national championship in track and field and making the Olympics in track and field, and hopefully in the future playing in the Super Bowl in the NFL, I think it’s just something that are really lofty goals," Allen said. "But the way things are going now, I think that’s totally attainable."
Allen missed the track season that followed his injury. He called it a "learning experience," but he’s worked his way back to full strength.
Allen won the 110m hurdles with a time of 13.03 seconds at the Trial. That’s 0.11 seconds behind London 2012’s gold-medal time, 12.92, posted by American Aries Merritt. He’ll have a legitimate chance to win in Rio.
"You can think about that, but it’s really just about competing and playing against yourself," Allen said. "It doesn’t matter. If anybody runs 14-flat, as long as you get first place, you’re gonna get the gold."
Oregon head football coach Mark Helfrich has thrown enthusiastic support behind Allen.
"We have a lot of very unrealistic discussions in recruiting sometimes. And just the distinct viable, tangible possibility of playing in the NFL and participating in the Olympic Games was something, from day one, the guy had a plan," Helfrich said at Pac-12 Media Days. "And then a willingness and a desire to see it through has just been unbelievable."
There’s synergy between Allen’s football and track careers.
Allen is gifted. He was a four-star receiver recruit out of Arizona in 2013.
But Allen has used track to sharpen his football career and vice versa. Track runs through the winter and spring, so he shows up for fall football camp in better shape than most. And Allen thinks football gives him a mental edge on the track.
"Football’s one of those things," Allen said. "You learn a lot from it, and it makes you adjust and it has you not really panic. And sometimes in track and field, a lot of athletes panic if something goes wrong, and I’m kind of one of those guys who says, ‘Hey, whatever comes, it will come, and I’ll be okay,’ and kind of roll with the flow, roll with the punches."
Another football benefit: he’s used to playing in front of massive audiences. The Rose Bowl held more than 90,000 people that day. Swelling crowds are not new for him.
"In football, in Autzen, you have 60,000 fans, and then track, there’s only 20,000. So it kind of feels like a little bit less pressure, less stick. Some of the track athletes might be a little bit nervous and in awe of the fans and the atmosphere, but I’ve been used to it," Allen said. "I’ve been playing in it for the last couple years, so I can kind of manage it pretty well. I’m real comfortable."
He won't be the first football player to take the Olympic stage. There's a long history there, dating as far back as Jim Thorpe's pentathlon and decathlon golds in 1912. Herschel Walker participated in bobsledding in 1992's Winter Games, and former Cal and NFL running back Jahvid Best will run track this year for Saint Lucia.
Allen’s ready for what comes next -- and also to be a regular person.
His next few weeks will be a whirlwind. Allen travels to Houston on Aug. 2, then flies overnight to Brazil and arrives in Rio on the morning of Aug. 4, the day before the Olympic opening ceremony.
But he doesn’t compete in the 110-meter hurdle until Aug. 15, and if he qualifies out of a heat that night, he’ll run for a medal on the 16th.
That leaves Allen 10 days in Rio to relax and be something approximating a 21-year-old kid, taking in the Olympics with his family.
"Just enjoy myself and be kind of like a tourist," he said. "But I don’t wanna be too touristy, because that’d take a lot of energy. But yeah, just check it out."
Allen talks about his Olympic run calmly. His voice doesn’t convey an ounce of nervousness. He’s looking forward to watching swimming, diving, soccer and basketball and strolling around the Olympic village.
"Everybody’s gonna run fast, but I think just competing well is gonna get you the gold, Allen said, "hopefully, with one of those fast times that we all strive for."
The Ducks start fall camp on Aug. 8. Allen expects to get back to Oregon on Aug. 22. He's got a football game on Sept. 3.
Allen plans to take a few days off once he arrives home. He and his family have worked out a plan for Allen to get in 10 practices and play at least by Oregon's second game of the year, Sept. 10 against Virginia, though Allen might be able to get back for the Ducks' opener against UC Davis a week before that.
"I think it'll be a quick turnaround," he said.