After a five-year absence, track star Devon Allen is returning to football this summer.
But first, he had some business to take care of on the track. A three-time U.S. national champion and two-time Olympian, Allen just needed a strong showing in the World Athletic Championships to complete a trifecta of remarkable accomplishments.
Instead, he was disqualified by one-thousandth of a second -- and he still can't believe it. Participating in the 110-meter hurdles finals, Allen reacted to the starting gun in 0.099 seconds, getting off to a blazing start in the most important event of his track season, and one of the most important of his successful career.
But the threshold for reacting after the gun is one-tenth, or 0.1 seconds. Allen was so quick, he was too quick -- early by 0.001.
Essentially, he was too fast to be legal.
"Usually if you look at all of my reaction times I'm probably in the top 1-5 percent of all sprinters at every competition I'm at, and so usually I'm just a quick reactor to the gun," Allen explained during a Tuesday appearance on The Dan Patrick Show, "and then this week obviously it's a huge competition for me, world championships in Eugene, Oregon, I'm probably going to react a little bit more quickly than normal. So, it's really unfortunate that that's the rule. I mean, I understand the rule, and it's in place so there's no false starts, but to not have a little leeway for margin of error or anything that goes on for a thousandth of a second is a little frustrating because I didn't get the chance to compete."
Based on his speedy start and Allen's performance this season -- he's taken first place in three races this season, including winning the New York Grand Prix by posting the third-fastest time in 110-meter hurdles history at 12.84 seconds -- he had a good chance of victory. Instead, he was forced to watch his fellow competitors run without him.
"Yeah, it would have been nice to win the world championships, but like I've said, it's one of those things where it's frustrating that it happened," Allen said. "But it happened already and I can't dwell on it too much because I've got some work to do a week from now."
A week from now is Allen's official return to football. After setting the sport aside for five years, Allen participated in Oregon's pro day in the spring and impressed scouts with his world-class speed, earning a visit to the Eagles and convincing Philadelphia to sign him as a 27-year-old undrafted rookie.
Allen made an impact as a receiver at Oregon, catching 41 passes for 684 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman before his role diminished and he turned his focus toward track and field. Now, though, Allen sees his late arrival as an advantage.
"I think the good thing is I haven't been getting beat up in the NFL for six years, and the good thing is I'm probably the fastest and most athletic I've been in my entire career," he told Patrick. "I'm much faster than I was in college, which was my strong suit when I did play in college, so overall it's a good thing.
"The hard thing is now getting back into an NFL system and actually playing football. But I've played football my whole life, so I think it should be pretty easy to get back into the swing of it."
Allen told Patrick he's quickly had to shift gears from elite-level track training to preparing for the highest level of football, taking just a couple of days to decompress with some golf in Phoenix. The change from running alongside the world's top competitors on the track to hitting the grass in pads will be drastic, but Allen believes he's ready.
He's also entering a period of familiarization with the Eagles' operations and offensive system. Philadelphia has been busy in the offseason, upgrading its receiving corps with the acquisition of A.J. Brown, and Allen is hoping to find a role that allows him to complement the new arrival and second-year standout DeVonta Smith, the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner.
"I'm not really exactly sure yet," Allen said when asked how he'll fit in the Eagles' plans. "Obviously my skill set is to stretch the field on offense, and then on special teams I plan to do as much as I can in the return game, kick returns, punt returns, and then on the other side of the ball in terms of special teams running down as gunner and making tackles as well.
"So we'll see how my role develops. As I get more comfortable on the field I expect to have more and more of a role on the team, but my goal is just to go and help the Eagles win football games, so whatever that takes is what I'll do."
Should Allen prove he can effectively shift from track to football and make the Eagles' final roster, he could provide Philadelphia with another speed threat and make the team's front office once again look rather savvy. And if it doesn't work out, he can always return to the track.
Ultimately, though, Allen is hoping his time in the NFL lasts longer than a split second.