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Next hurdle: Pass-catching


National champion Devon Allen takes on football challenge

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF OREGON - As a freshman, Devon Allen won not only the NCAA championship in the 110-meter hurdles but also the U.S. title in the national championships at Sacramento. Less than two months later, he is preparing to catch passes for the Oregon Ducks football team.EUGENE — The Oregon Ducks have one of the best players in the nation in quarterback Marcus Mariota. But a quarterback is only as good as the receivers who are catching his passes.

The Ducks lost their top four receivers from last season: Josh Huff (graduation), Bralon Addison (injury), Daryle Hawkins (graduation) and De’Anthony Thomas (NFL draft). Those receivers combined for 168 catches, 2,623 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Oregon’s roster is now filled with unproven receivers who could have a world of potential. The receiver with perhaps the most potential is redshirt freshman Devon Allen.

The 6-0, 185-pounder, whose first name is pronounced Dev-in, not Dev-on, already is a track and field superstar. He finished his freshman track season by winning the NCAA 110-meter hurdles, running a championship meet-record time of 13.16 seconds, the second-fastest collegiate time ever.

Allen also captured the U.S. title at the national championship meet, clocking the same time (wind-aided) June 29 at Sacramento to edge defending champ Ryan Wilson and defending world champ David Oliver.

The big question is, can Allen play football?

Ducks coach Mark Helfrich says yes.

“Being a high hurdler is tough,” Helfrich says. “It’s not just running down the lane and being fast. You’ve got to have a little something to you. You don’t always jump over the hurdles. When you learn hurdles, it’s not just sunshine and roses.

“He’s a tough dude. He’s a great blocker. He’s one of those guys that they’re not proven but we’re really excited about.”

Allen, from Brophy Prep in Phoenix, did not play last football season, after getting banged up in training camp.

“Devon got a little nicked up last year,” says Helfrich, who refuses to discuss injuries. “He was having a great camp, and it just didn’t work out.”

During the last year’s spring game, Allen showed that he could be a crucial receiver for the Ducks, scoring a 45-yard touchdown and a 49-yard TD.

“I feel healthy,” Allen says. “I’m in pretty good shape from track season. After track season, I jumped back in with summer conditioning and put some strength back on that I had lost in track.”

Allen says he was able to maintain his strength during track season, though he did not improve it.

“I still lifted,” he says. “(Strength and conditioning) coach (Jim) Radcliff had me on a modified strength program. I was still strong. I didn’t lose too much strength, but I didn’t gain strength like some of the other (football) guys do during the summer and spring.”

While he was unable to improve his strength, Allen had plenty of time to get even faster.

“The speed aspect helps me get open easier, it helps me spread the field a little bit and helps me get open on routes,” he says. “(Track speed) is a different kind of speed in football. I try to get some more quickness and some more short bursts (for football). You’re never going to run 100 yards at a time in a game. You’re going to run 20 yards at a time, 40 yards at a time, 10 yards at a time.”

Speed is good, but a crisp route runner is more likely than a blindingly fast receiver to get open. Early in his football career, Allen did not need to run a decent route to get open. He has been working on his route running the last few years, though.

“I’m pretty good,” Allen says. “When I was younger, I used to just run deep balls all the time because I was faster than everybody. I started to realize I needed to learn how to run different routes. I’m getting better, but I could use a lot of work.”

Allen is very confident in his hands.

“I catch pretty well,” Allen says. “I never had a problem catching the ball and making a play. It’s something that came pretty natural to me. But just like the route running, getting used to the receiver position was something I had to learn to do.”

Of course, the biggest question mark with Allen is whether he can go from taking an occasional knock on the legs from a mischievous hurdle to taking a big lick from a Pac-12 linebacker. Allen says contact is no problem for him, though.

“I pride myself on being a great blocker and bringing contact to the defensive backs,” he says. “Being a bigger receiver, I’m still strong enough. I can handle everything that’s thrown at me.”

Allen says football is his first love, but he tries to compartmentalize his focus during both track and football season.

“I’ve been playing football since I was 5,” he says. “It’s something new and always changing and I can always get better at it. I try to focus on the two sports separately. When I’m playing football, I’m strictly football. When I’m running track, I’m focused on track. It gives me a break in between, so I don’t get burned out.”

With his speed, Allen is likely to be utilized on special teams for the Ducks, too.

“He’s a great competitor, which translates over to special teams a ton,” Helfrich says. “With the ball in his hands, he’s great.”

Allen says his personal goals are to help the Ducks win any way he can.

“I want to be a guy that the coaches can trust and go to in a big-play situation,” he says. “I want to be able to contribute, play receiver, play special teams, make plays, help our team win and hopefully do some exciting things during the season.”

The true measure of success for Allen this season, though, will be whether or not he can help Oregon capitalize on the talents of its star quarterback. And without having thrown a pass to him in an official game, Mariota says he is confident in his young receiver with the hurdle titles.

“We’re working on our chemistry,” Mariota says. “He’s going to be a great asset for us. He’s an incredible athlete, and we’re going to have to find ways to get him the ball.”