Devon Allen’s introduction to Eagles fans won’t come at Lincoln Financial Field. Instead, the Birds’ new wide receiver will get his welcome to the city at a stadium the team used to call home.
Allen will run in the men’s 110-meter hurdles at the Penn Relays next weekend, right after he arrives in town for the Eagles’ first days of OTAs. The 27-year-old will get to show off his other sports passion, one that earned him trips to the 2016 and 2021 Olympics after running track and playing football at the University of Oregon.
“So far, the city and the fans have shown a lot of love,” Allen said Thursday during a news conference at Franklin Field. “I’ve had a pretty good track career, I still have a lot of things I want to accomplish, and I love track and field. But my first love has always been football, and the Philadelphia Eagles [have] given me that chance to go after that again and contribute and help the Eagles win a Super Bowl in the next few years.”
The Eagles signed Allen earlier this month after he worked out for scouts at the Ducks’ pro day a few weeks ago. Currently the world’s No. 1-ranked men’s 110-meter hurdler, he plans to run in the World Athletics Championships in July — coincidentally at Oregon’s track stadium — before returning to Philadelphia for Eagles training camp.
Allen said he grew up watching the Penn Relays on TV, and still has vivid memories of Usain Bolt’s legendary 2010 visit that drew Franklin Field’s biggest crowd in decades.
“Now that I’ve got the whole city of Philly behind me, it feels like home to go to the Penn Relays for the first time,” Allen said.
Of course, Eagles fans will want to know how he’ll transition between the gridiron and the track. He took the question head-on.
“I’m not going to say it’s like riding a bike, because it’s not easy, but it’s something I’ve done so much and so often that I just need a refresher,” he said. “Once my body gets used to doing it again, I think I’m going to have no problem going back and forth in terms of going to football when the track season is over. This season specifically is probably the fastest and strongest I’ve been since being a pro.”
Homecoming for Philly-bred stars
Although there won’t be a traditional USA vs. the World competition at the first Penn Relays in three years, there will be some traditional star power.
The American contingent will be headlined by track legend Allyson Felix, in her last visit to Franklin Field before she retires at the end of the year; Philadelphia’s Ajeé Wilson, a two-time Olympian who just won the World Indoor Championships’ 800-meter title; Penn alum Nia Akins, and Trenton’s Athing Mu, who won an electric gold in the 800 in Tokyo last summer.
“I’ve gotten to come to the Penn Relays so many years in a bunch of different vantage points,” said Wilson, who grew up in Neptune, N.J., and went to college at Temple. “In high school, it was always a big deal driving here from Jersey — we’d always have our matching pants, we’d make special T-shirts to come. And we loved going to the vendors’ village and just interacting with other athletes, and also getting to mix it up with the college athletes, asking them for advice.”
Wilson has kept competing at the Relays as a pro, and noted that she even comes “as a spectator” in the years when she hasn’t run.
Jamaica’s delegation will be led by Natoya Goule, her country’s record-holder in the indoor and outdoor 800; and Omar McLeod, who won 110 hurdles gold at the 2016 Olympics and 2017 World Championships. He and Allen have competed against each other for years, and are good friends.
Remarkably, it will be Mu’s first time running at the Relays. She never did in college at Texas A&M, and she never did in high school because she didn’t run for Trenton Central — only in AAU events for the Trenton Track Club.
“I think it’s going to be super-loud,” Wilson said. “To be able to have someone that people have come to recognize — her performance at the Olympics was incredible — I think it will just be exciting. I’m sure she’ll be overwhelmed a bit, but any time you get that type of love from people you’re running in front of, it’s amazing.”
She also offered a local insider’s advice for Allen.
“If you hear people saying, ‘Wooooo!’… that’s the Penn Relays call to know you’re about to get walked down,” she said to laughter in the room. “You’re going to have a lot of the Jamaican crowd because Omar’s in the race going loud, going hard. So just be mindful of that noise — and if you hear it, run fast so it’s not you that gets caught.”
Allen said he’ll be ready.