The cursed freshman year of Chase Allen is over (he hopes)

Iowa State Athletics

AMES, Iowa -- Five days before his anticipated debut as a true freshman last fall, Chase Allen, the much-hyped tight end who seven months earlier picked Iowa State over Michigan and Nebraska in a recruiting coup for new head coach Matt Campbell, earned a small role in the Cyclones' game plan.

Finally, game week.

He had fought through preseason camp, with the wounds sewn shut with 103 stitches after emergency room doctors at Mary Greeley Medical Center pulled chunks of a windshield from his back, neck and left armpit on July 21. Allen walked into the path of a Pontiac Grand Prix on South 4th Street, a four-lane stretch that separates Jack Trice Stadium and the Iowa State football facility from a set of commuter parking lots.

With his arms full of protein shakes after a summer workout, Allen, 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds, leapt to avoid a square hit from the accelerating vehicle. He broke the passenger-side headlight with his left knee, smashed the windshield and flipped over the trunk, escaping serious injury.

"If it had been a truck," Allen said, "I don't even know if I'd still be here talking."

To have survived -- thrived, even -- until the days before the Cyclones opened against Northern Iowa, Allen had beaten the odds. Until Aug. 29, that is, when the odds beat Allen and he was dealt the second and third blows in a chain of episodes ugly enough to plant serious doubt about his decision to attend Iowa State.

"In a weird way," Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said, "this was the best thing that could have happened to him."

A very weird way, actually.

That final Monday of August, as the opener neared, Allen awoke with a sore throat. He looked in the mirror and saw his swollen face. Knowing that the mumps had recently infected several teammates, Allen, who was vaccinated as a child and received a booster shot in August, immediately went to the Iowa State trainers.

They sent him back to the hospital where he received treatment for the car accident.

"It was terrible," he said of his bout with the mumps.

Four days of confinement in his dorm room at Frederiksen Court followed. The swelling near his ears caused Allen to feel constantly nauseated.

His mother, Lynn Allen, drove to Ames from their family home in Nixa, Missouri, to nurse her son. ISU trainer Meaghan Hussey checked on Allen often, once discovering him asleep on the bathroom floor.

"I don't know how many times I threw up," Allen said. "I was really hating life, laying in bed, complete darkness, just waiting for it to be over. I don't wish that on anyone."

By Saturday, Sept. 3, Allen was no longer contagious. Not cleared to play but feeling decent, he dressed in his uniform and watched the evening kickoff surrounded by teammates -- the padding inside his helmet was adjusted so his swollen face would fit under the crown.

But as the Cyclones committed turnovers on their final three possessions and lost 25-20 in Campbell's ISU debut, Allen began to relapse.

"The worst was still to come," he said.

Allen hobbled to his dorm room, and the vomiting resumed. On Sunday morning, he returned to the hospital.

The diagnosis? Viral meningitis, a rare secondary infection related to the mumps. Lynn, nearly finished with the six-hour drive home, drove back to Ames, where she arrived after midnight to find Hussey, the trainer, at her son's hospital bedside.

Chase spent four days at Mary Greeley. He lost 20 pounds, weight he has only recently regained.

"I just needed to sleep," he said. "I couldn't eat anything."

That week, Allen and his mom met a doctor, who said he told patients stricken with meningitis that "you're going to feel like you got hit by a car."

After Chase had been literally hit by a car, Lynn told the doctor that her 19-year-old son's experience with meningitis was "so much worse."

"Oh, my gosh," the doctor said, "I've never met anyone who had both of those things happen to them."

Two weeks and one day after he woke up with the sore throat, Chase Allen returned to the practice field. He weighed 212 pounds, and his freshman season was essentially over.

"... I think what killed Chase more than anything, though, is we weren't winning, and he thought he could help us win," Iowa State tight ends coach Alex Golesh said.

Now Allen, emboldened by his productive spring as a rising redshirt freshman, shrugs at the memories. Home in Missouri this week, he'll return to Iowa in a few days to begin his march toward next season.

"I'm not upset about any of it," he said. "It was a good experience. Well, not a good experience, but a learning experience."

Chase Allen's dad coached college football for 36 years.

When Terry Allen was fired in 2001 after five seasons as the head coach at Kansas, he found a spot at Iowa State under Dan McCarney as associate head coach in charge of tight ends and special teams.

The Allens spent four years in Ames, and Chase, age 4 when his dad took the job, fell in love with the Cyclones. He wore the jerseys of QB Seneca Wallace and receiver Todd Blythe and attended practice at every opportunity. Little Chase set records in the pool at Ames Golf and Country Club.

In 2006, Terry jumped to Missouri State, but a piece of Chase stayed behind at Iowa State. So did numerous friends of the family, inside and out of the Iowa State football program. Many remain near Ames, including Gilbert Elementary School classmates of Chase's, whom he has recognized in college classrooms.

"That's just Iowa," Terry said.

Terry was born in Iowa City and is the son of Iowa's longtime former men's swimming and diving coach. Terry played quarterback at Northern Iowa and got his first head-coaching job at the school in Cedar Falls.

Lynn grew up on a farm near Barnum, Iowa, 70 miles northwest of Ames.

Iowa blood runs through Chase Allen's veins. Yet Golesh, a former Toledo assistant alongside Matt Campbell who spent four years at Illinois and reunited with the new Iowa State head coach when Campbell was hired after the 2015 season, knew little of this.

At the time, Golesh had been recruiting Allen to Illinois for most of the previous year. He was scheduled for a home visit on Nov. 30, in fact, but called Allen one day prior to tell him the news: He had taken a job at Iowa State.

"You'd never believe this," Allen told Golesh on the phone, "but if somebody asked me what my home is, I'd say Ames, Iowa."

And so Golesh, dressed in new Cyclones' gear, took Campbell to meet Allen in Missouri on Dec. 2, their first week on the job. They planned to seal the deal. The visit went well, but Allen did not commit. In the weeks that followed, his senior season tape enticed scholarship offers from Florida State, Oklahoma State, Michigan, Nebraska and others.

Suddenly, the secret was out on the three-sport star rated by ESPN as the No. 12 tight end nationally.

Golesh was stunned. But Terry, who knew the recruiting game as well as anyone in pursuit of his son, offered Golesh a message: "You've been on him all along. Just keep recruiting."

Chase Allen visited Minnesota in December and Michigan in mid-January. A week later, with a recruiting dead period near, he spent a weekend at Nebraska and drove straight to Iowa State for a one-day, entirely personalized visit on Jan. 25.

Star receiver Allen Lazard hosted Allen. They attended shootaround at Hilton Coliseum before Iowa State's men's basketball team hosted fourth-ranked Kansas on Big Monday. Dinner was served at the revered Aunt Maude's. The Cyclones beat KU, but Golesh felt bad about Allen's abbreviated campus visit.

In the snowy parking lot at the end of the night, Allen told Golesh not to worry. He wanted to come home to Ames, but he needed a few days to get ready for the announcement.

On Tuesday, Jim Harbaugh visited the Allens in Missouri. The Michigan coach wanted to arrive at midnight and sleep over -- his recruiting tactic used earlier that month to lure a prep kicker out of a Penn State commitment. Terry said no, so Harbaugh went to Chase's basketball game instead.

Harbaugh then brought his son and assistant Jay Harbaugh and new linebackers coach Chris Partridge to the Allens' house. They sat around the kitchen table and talked at length on speaker phone with Jack Harbaugh, Jim's dad, who coached for three years at Iowa when Terry's father worked at the school.

"Coach Harbaugh said it was the best home visit he's ever had," Chase said.

Nebraska coach Mike Riley visited that week too.

Then, on Jan. 27, Chase Allen grabbed an old photo off the fridge and showed it to his parents. In the picture, he's holding a football and smiling, wearing an Iowa State shirt. They're standing in Jack Trice Stadium.

He still wanted to go home.

"With most people, their goal is to go to the biggest school that offers them the biggest stage," he said last week. "That's not always the best fit."

Allen committed at a news conference that Friday, stunning fans of Michigan and Nebraska.

When Allen went home last winter after his three hospital visits and the Cyclones' 3-9 season, he saw the Wolverines, Cornhuskers and other former suitors in bowl games. Friends asked about his decision.

"It took more courage to [pick Iowa State] than to say another place," Allen said. "And it's a place that I care about making a difference."

The Cyclones expect big things from Allen this fall. He has a skill set similar to those of other tight ends Campbell and Golesh recruited to Toledo, including Michael Roberts, a recent fourth-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions who led all FBS tight ends last year with 16 touchdown catches.

Iowa State tight ends caught seven passes and zero touchdowns last year.

"I just want to be in a position where I can make a lot of things go right for our offense," Allen said. "I want to get out and finally show people what I can do."

Whatever happens, the Cyclones figure to trace Allen's journey back to July 21.

"It was just my welcome-to-college-football moment," Allen likes to say, "except I wasn't wearing any pads."

The car that hit Allen was driven by a student.

"I want to tell her that I'm sorry," Allen said. "I hope she's OK. I can't imagine how scary that was for her to think she probably just killed someone."

Campbell said the Iowa State staff reached out to the driver and hopes, as Allen does, that she isn't scarred from that day.

As for Golesh, the image of Allen sitting near a pool of his own blood on the street outside the stadium, with emergency vehicles approaching, remains fresh. Several Iowa State players saw the aftermath of the accident.

Fellow tight end Cole Anderson alerted Golesh, who was a few hundred feet away in an offensive staff meeting.

Strangely calm, Allen had already called his mom when Golesh and Campbell arrived on the scene. Golesh talked to Lynn as he rode with Allen in the ambulance.

"No matter how long you've been coaching, that's a first," Golesh said.

Two months later, once Allen had survived the mumps and meningitis, Terry asked his son about school. How's it going? After all, Chase picked Iowa State for its engineering program, as well.

Fine, Chase said. He finished the fall with a 4.0 grade-point average in mechanical engineering and was named one of four Student-athletes of the Semester across all sports at Iowa State.

"Chase is like a 25-year-old," Campbell said last week. "I remember sitting in the hospital room after the accident. They're stitching him up. I'm mesmerized by this guy. They're pulling glass out, and he's not crying.

"The poise and the demeanor, I don't know if it was sheer willpower or what. But I think, as I've grown to know Chase, it's just who he is."