By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 2, 2006
During an arduous rehabilitation process, nearly a two-year odyssey in which he coaxed his damaged body back to health, Maryland running back Josh Allen readied his mind for myriad scenarios.
He prepared for the best case, strengthening his repaired left knee to handle the rigors of an entire season as the featured back. He prepared for the worst case, steeling his psyche in the event that his knee wouldn't allow him back onto the field at all. Allen has avoided both extremes so far.
Still, Allen finds himself in an uneasy compromise.
"Of course, as a competitor, I want to touch the ball more," said Allen, who has 26 carries for 73 yards this season. "But so does everybody else. So I just have to trust in the game plan and execute the best I can."
Allen's knee has allowed him to play in all of Maryland's eight games thus far, a minor miracle after suffering an injury regarded by some a career-ender. The senior appreciates his chance to help the Terrapins (6-2, 3-1 ACC) reach the postseason, especially after a trying two-year drought.
But after enduring a painful rehab, his role has been largely diminished in the Terrapins' offense. Once Maryland's top running back before he tore multiple ligaments in his knee, Allen has been used as a situational back behind juniors Keon Lattimore and Lance Ball.
"College football itself is a humbling process, from the time you come in here as a freshman and you realize that you're not on the same level as the guys who have been here two or three years," Allen said. "I've faced that. Going through an injury like I have, that's another humbling process."
With four regular season games left in a distinguished career at Maryland, one in which he is tied for sixth on the team's career list with 21 rushing touchdowns, Allen says he realizes he's fortunate to be back on the field in any capacity. He relishes being with his teammates, a welcome change from a year of virtual isolation in rehab. Even as he spends more cheering than playing, the Terrapins say Allen remains a positive force.
"He does not make any kind of mention at all, doesn't show any signs of being down, doesn't show any signs of being angry and upset," quarterback Sam Hollenbach said. "If anything, he's stepping up as a leader vocally. He's the first guy that's going to be cheering when Lance and Keon does well. He's there for the team any way he can be there. He's been a great support in that manner."
His longtime friend and roommate, David Holloway, said Allen has handled the situation with grace, offering encouragement and advice for teammates. But privately, Holloway said he sees his friend's conflicted feelings.
"There's the good and the bad," said Holloway, a senior linebacker. "The good thing is that he's with his team, with the guys in whatever situation. If he feels he can help at all, whether it be motivating other people, that's what he's going to do. On the flip side, of course he's feeling a little down because he was the main guy."
Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen said Allen has improved during practice and is showing signs of regaining his pre-injury form. The coach has carved out a role for Allen as a pass catcher, as evidenced by his eight catches for 54 yards this season, two for touchdowns.
But with Allen slightly behind Ball and Lattimore, the issue remains emotional for Friedgen, whose eyes welled with tears when talking about the senior's plight. The relationship between player and coach is close, cemented when Allen spent extended time at the coach's house, where Friedgen's wife, Gloria, served as an academic tutor. In that time, Allen, who is on schedule to graduate, became a de facto member of the coach's family.
"He's just got great character, just solid," Friedgen said. "He's the epitome of team player. If I had a son, I'd like for him to be like him. He's a pretty special kid."