Thomas Allen will miss Florida homecoming but still has a role with Indiana
After suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in the very game that earned Indiana the right to play in the Gator Bowl, linebacker Thomas Allen won't be able to join his Florida-native teammates on the field, but he still has a role and can still make an impact for the Hoosiers.
The state of Florida has been a key to Indiana’s rise as a football program in recent seasons, as the Hoosiers have developed a recruiting pipeline into the Sunshine State and deployed in-state recruiting tactics unusual for a program and a state with as much distance between them as Indiana and Florida have.
On the 2019 roster, 24 players are from the state of Florida, so it’s fitting that Indiana would cap its most historic Tom Allen Era season in that state. Throughout bowl practices following Indiana’s win against Purdue and the ensuing announcement, the state of Florida has been a constant in the narrative surrounding the program, whether it be players playing in front of home crowds, Tom Allen returning to his days at South Florida or motivation to win at home.
Regardless of the reason, playing in the state of Florida is a key aspect of the Gator Bowl for the Indiana program. One particular Florida native, however, won’t be on the field for the Hoosiers. That’s Tom Allen’s son, Thomas, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury at Nebraska, the game that earned his team the right to play in the Gator Bowl.
“He’s down. It’s hard,” Allen said Monday before practice at Fernandina Beach High School. “He played in the state of Florida too. To come back to Florida and play would have been a dream opportunity for him. Just got to do it again in the future.”
There was no chance for Thomas to return for the bowl game when it was discovered what he’d done to his shoulder – injuries to his rotator cuff and labrum. He will need six months to recover after surgery in November and isn’t expected to be playing by spring ball in March and April.
When asked in November what Thomas was to do after surgery, Tom Allen said “he needs to put his coach’s hat on” like senior left tackle Coy Cronk did when he suffered a season-ending injury against Connecticut in week four.
So when the media entered John Mellencamp Pavilion to watch practice in mid-December for the first time since fall camp in August, Thomas was on the field, his arm in a sling and a crimson hat on his head, standing with the defensive coaches during 7-on-7 work.
“He’s in all our meetings and standing next to the linebackers the whole time, helping us and coaching us, walking us through things,” sophomore linebacker Cam Jones said.
Thomas hasn’t been the most productive player in his time at Indiana – 45 tackles, one sack and one interception in 20 games – but his knowledge of the defense has been his path to the field, being an extension of his father at linebacker. He’s carried that into his new role. He still studies film as if he’s playing in the Gator Bowl, Tom Allen said.
And many of the values that Tom Allen has introduced to the program are understandably passed through Thomas in the locker room and on the field. Jones described Thomas as a leader within the linebacker room because of the way embodies his father’s vision.
“He’s just like him,” Jones said. “They’re passionate about football and passionate about everything that they do. They attack every single day. You can see Coach Allen in TA.”
It’s made a difference for the linebackers, even though they are one of the deepest positions on the team – redshirt freshman James Miller stepped into Thomas’ place and is expected to have a major role at Indiana sometime in the future.
Sophomore starting linebacker Micah McFadden, who also played at Plant High School and has a close relationship with Thomas, went as far as describing Thomas’ injury as “tragic.” There is a clear understanding of the shame that comes with a dedicated teammate missing history because of events out of his control.
But McFadden echoed Jones and Tom Allen when he said his long-time teammate still has a role in Indiana’s performance in Jacksonville.
“He knows the defense so well. It’s really sad that he’s not in the game, but it’s like he’s always been right there with us,” McFadden said. “We’re all sad that he won’t be out there with us.”