After enduring painful rehab, Allen hopes for gainful season

September 02, 2006|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun reporter

COLLEGE PARK -- He would lie on his back with the electric contraption strapped to his left knee for two hours every day, for at least two months. Doctors and athletic trainers urged Maryland running back Josh Allen to fall asleep with the machine on, as it continuously bent and straightened his surgically repaired knee.

It was too painful, though, to sleep.

During a football game in November 2004 against Wake Forest, Allen tore his anterior cruciate ligament, his posterior cruciate ligament, his lateral collateral ligament, his hamstring and a ligament in the back corner of his knee. He also dislocated his knee, and four days later arrived at Kernan Hospital in Baltimore for a four-hour surgery done more often on patients who are in car wrecks, not football games.

Instead of simply learning to walk and jog again, Allen has rehabilitated his knee - minus a full burst of speed - and is expected to play in today's season opener against William and Mary without a brace. He will join offensive lineman Stephon Heyer and linebacker Erin Henderson, both projected starters for today who also missed last season with torn ACLs. All three have made full recoveries and should be among the Terps' top contributors this season.

"I think I have a very good doctor," coach Ralph Friedgen said of orthopedic surgeon Craig Bennett, chief of orthopedic sports medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and head team physician. "Our medical situation right now is as good as it's ever been."

It's had to be.

Maryland linebacker Jermaine Lemons, defensive end Deege Galt and safety Jamari McCollough each tore an ACL this summer. Running back T.D. Callahan, who quit the team in the spring but returned about a week ago, also tore his ACL last year.

Heyer, a pro prospect who also had surgery on his right kneecap, said he got "choked up about it" when he learned of McCollough's injury.

"If I ever had to do it again, I don't know if I could," Heyer said of the rehabilitation of his left knee, which kept him on crutches for more than a month. "It's so tough. When I hear it happening to someone in the pros or college or whatever, it breaks my heart because I know what they're about to go through, and it's so tough. It's a long, grueling process I would not wish on my worst enemy."

Heyer and Allen missed only one practice each during two-a-days this summer, but Friedgen said Henderson appears more "ginger" than his teammates. Henderson said mentally he's done a "complete 180" since learning of his season-ending knee injury last year.

"I wasn't myself," he said. "I'd lock myself in my room, wasn't eating right. There were only a select few I'd open up to. I stayed in a shell, stayed by myself. I couldn't even walk around campus with my head up. I felt like I wasn't Erin Henderson, like I had been stripped of all that.

"Now that I look back on it, I shouldn't have gotten like that," he said. "Hindsight is 20/20 I guess. Isn't that what they say?"

Allen's injury was even more severe. Medically, the only thing worse would have been damage to his major nerve and artery near the knee.

"Josh Allen is an exceptional athlete, and biologically speaking, he's an amazing human being," Maryland athletic trainer Bryan Matson said of the Terps' second-leading rusher as a junior in 2004. "It's hard to compare other athletes to Josh Allen. First of all, the injury he had was so catastrophic he probably shouldn't have been able to come back and play. A lot of players who have that injury don't come back and play. That's a major, major injury.

"The fact that he came back, not only is it, No. 1, attributed to his genetics - the way his body heals - but his attitude, his mentality, his work ethic ... all the things that make Josh a great person - and he really is above and beyond a football player, he's an amazing person - those are the things that made him come back."

So did countless hours with physical therapist Kala Flagg, who was added to Maryland's staff around September of last year. It also helped to have Bennett on the sideline at Byrd Stadium that day in 2004.

The former head orthopedic surgeon for the Ravens rushed out to Allen on the field to find the rest of Allen's leg dangling from where the knee was supposed to be. The knee was completely out of the joint.

"Dr. Bennett ran out there and he asked me what was wrong," Allen said. "I said, `I broke my leg.' ... It was very frustrating because I knew it was something very bad."

Allen refused to look at it.

"I rolled over to get on my back, and I could feel it just dangling," he said. "There was nothing holding it in place. He grabbed my ankle, pulled it, and I could feel it pop back in."

Four days later, Allen underwent a four-hour surgery in which Bennett repaired and reconstructed his torn knee ligaments, using cadaver tissue for a portion of the surgery.

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