College and University

Athletic training staff get injured Alabama players healthy again


Article reposted from Tuscaloosa News

Every Alabama football player is required to have his ankles taped or braced for every practice or game. That means every player comes to see Jeff Allen and his staff before every practice and every game.

He’ll tape about 15 players a day before practice and more on game days. That’s about two hours of work every day. Some may consider it one of the more ponderous tasks of his profession. Allen doesn’t.

“It matters,” Allen said. “It’s not just a menial task. It matters.”

The way Allen – Alabama’s associate athletics director for sports medicine – sees it, about a quarter of the injuries he and the medical staff deal with are ankle injuries. That’s why every player is required to be taped, every day.

“If we don’t tape them and don’t do a good job of it, I guarantee you, our injuries are going to shoot up,” he said. “When I’m taping them, I’m like, ‘OK, I’m protecting this guy so that he can stay on the field.’ I’m not just throwing some tape on him. I’m doing it the right way, doing it the way that’s going to work biomechanically and physiologically so that we keep this guy on the field.”

So players begin putting their name on a list to be taped, and the process starts around noon. It goes until meetings at 2 o’clock on a normal practice day.

But there’s also more to it than biomechanics and ankle support. Those two hours every day are the time for Allen and the athletic trainers to build bonds with players.

“The guys that I tape every day, definitely it’s a great way to sit there and talk to them, just like a barber does when you sit there in a chair,” Allen said. “We certainly use that as an opportunity to build those relationships.”

Trust is key in the relationship between players and athletic trainers. The medical staff, by nature, will spend the most time with players who are injured. They’re the ones running on the field when a player stays down after a tackle.

The relationships have to start before then. Most athletes arrive at Alabama with no experience of working with a professional medical staff on a day-to-day basis. Allen and the medical staff have to build that trust before injuries strike. The alternative can be corrosive to a team’s culture.

“The main thing, and I’ve seen it happen where the athletic trainers, the players, and the coaches aren’t on the same page and there’s some controversy or lack of trust,” said Dr. Lyle Cain, an orthopedic surgeon with Andrews Sports Medicine. “What you see typically is unhappy players, number one. Because the players don’t trust the treatment that they’re getting. That’s a disaster. If the players feel like the athletic trainers are too much on the coaches’ side, or the doctors are too much on the coaches’ side or the team side, I think you totally lose trust in the system. They don’t get well as quickly. They don’t follow through on their plans for rehab, and it makes a difficult situation medically to deal with any kind of injury because the player really doesn’t trust what you’re telling them.”

Players may arrive with the idea that the medical staff are the ones who keep them from returning to the field. Allen, along with the team doctors and athletic trainers, are the ones who make that decision. But there’s also far more than that.

Allen and his staff are with players when they receive bad news. They’re the ones who translate medical diagnoses into a language that players and their families can understand. They have to communicate with the coaches and the strength and conditioning staff about what players can and cannot do.

Then they’re with players through their rehab. They communicate with doctors, specialists, families and players to keep them on track. Taping ankles is just the beginning. Allen and his team are known as one of the best in every area.

“I’ve been at Alabama almost 30 years and worked with some excellent athletic trainers, but Jeff’s overall package is just so unbelievable,” said Dr. Jimmy Robinson, Alabama’s team physician.

It starts with those relationships. It’s built over time, on the training table before practice or in the rehab room. Robinson said the medical staff gathers before games to say a prayer that there won’t be any injuries.

“He loves on them, to be honest with you,” Robinson said. “He gives them a hug and puts his arm around them and talks to them.”

The medical team is more than just Allen, and more than just the athletic trainers. Robinson and the team physicians play a big role. Andrews Sports Medicine is one of the premier practices of its type anywhere, and it happens to be just down the road.

But Allen is the one who oversees it all as the head athletic trainer for the football team.

“I’ve told my other doctors that I work with and the other people around that I think there are several people important to the University of Alabama program,” Cain said. “Obviously Coach (Nick) Saban is at the top of the list. But I think Jeff Allen is probably in the top two or three. There is no coach, administrator, doctor or anybody else in the program that’s as important in terms of what happens through the season, what happens in the offseason, what happens with the players from a perception and happiness standpoint as Jeff Allen.”

Allen and the medical staff have been especially vital to Alabama this season. The Crimson Tide watched four of its top linebackers go down to injury in the season opener against Florida State. Outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings had surgery for an ankle injury and played three weeks later against Vanderbilt. Inside linebacker Rashaan Evans made a return from a groin injury in that game, too.

Outside linebackers Christian Miller (biceps) and Terrell Lewis (elbow) were also hurt in the opener and expected to miss the rest of the season. Inside linebacker Mack Wilson (foot) was injured in the LSU game, but missed just one game and played in the Iron Bowl.

“I don’t know that we’ve had more (injuries this season),” Allen said. “We’ve had more to one position. That’s the problem. Usually they’re spread out among the whole team and you can kind of absorb them. When you have that many to one position, that’s really hard to manage.”

Even when Miller and Lewis were declared out for the season, Allen and his team went to work and tried to find new ways to help players return to the field sooner.

“We modify different braces or create braces or make braces that prevent that structure from being reinjured. Like the elbow braces that Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis are wearing,” Robinson said. “Mack has a special orthotic in his shoe that’s custom-made for him that protects that bone from having too much stress on it. Things like that are invaluable.”

If Alabama can win a championship with those linebackers back on the field, it won’t be the first time Allen and the medical staff have helped put the Crimson Tide over the top.

They also had a key role in the 2015 championship. Senior running back Kenyan Drake broke his arm against Mississippi State on Nov. 14 of that year.

Before Drake had even left the field, he and Allen were talking about his timetable to return. Drake declared that night that he’d be back for the SEC championship game – and he was.

“I don’t think there’s any question that between him and Dr. Cain, they’re able to get these athletes back faster but also safer than most programs,” Robinson said.

Cain operated on Drake as soon as possible. Allen had a carbon fiber brace 3D-printed with the help of Alabama’s engineering department for Drake to wear. He had a machine that he wore on his arm while sleeping to help his treatment. He was in the training room to rehab whenever he could be.

Drake caught a pass on Alabama’s first play from scrimmage in the SEC title game. He swung to the left side, moving the ball into his healthy arm. He used his right arm – broken less than a month before – to stiff-arm a defender. He didn’t even realize it until he was back on the sideline and Allen asked him how it felt.

“They did all they could to help me get back, working with the engineering program, getting a carbon fiber copy of my arm and putting the whole cast around it,” Drake said. “It was a real team effort and I appreciate everything they did for me.”

The real dividend came a month later in Phoenix. Drake returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown against Clemson in the fourth quarter of the national championship game.

“It would have been really easy with Kenyan to put him in a cast and say, ‘Hey, good luck to you. You’ll get better in 8-10 weeks and you can start trying to come back.’ That cast probably would have cost $15,” Allen said. “Dr. Cain took him the next day and did a very aggressive procedure, put a plate over the fractured forearm, we put him on a bone stimulator, started doing aggressive rehab. Stuff that’s incredibly expensive, but I think the return on the investment was pretty good.

“If we don’t have him in that national championship game, I don’t know if we win it. I really don’t. I don’t know if we win the game.”

Allen has a mural in his office of Drake diving across the goal line on that play. He’s holding the ball in his right arm: the arm that was broken.

That comeback was made possible not just by the aggressive treatment, dedicated rehab and top-of-the-line medical care. It also happened thanks to the relationship Drake had with the athletic training staff.

He’d dealt with a major injury the year before when he broke an ankle and was out for the season. Allen and the medical team helped him come back from that. He knew he could trust them.

“Obviously, when you’re hurt, it’s a way deeper relationship than just getting your ankles taped,” Drake said. “It wasn’t strange when I had to go through the rehab because you’re already familiar.”

As much as anything else, that’s what sets Alabama’s medical staff apart.

“I think in a lot of places, he would not have been on the field,” Cain said. “But I think he was (able to return) primarily because of his confidence in the athletic training staff and the rehab and the process that he had already experienced. His mentality was totally different than it would be at most places.”

After the game, there was a moment when Drake, Allen and Cain embraced. Allen said it was the “most special moment” he’s experienced in college athletics. The relationship remains, even after Drake’s college career ended that night.

“When I go to campus, one of the first stops I make is the training room,” Drake said.

He’s not the only one. Washington Redskins defensive end Jonathan Allen stopped by earlier this season after an injury likely ended his rookie year. The offseason sees “a flood” of former players coming in and out: Eddie Lacy, Eddie Jackson, AJ McCarron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dont’a Hightower and C.J. Mosley were just a few who came through.

Cain said that many former Alabama players who have gone on to the NFL will call Allen for advice when they’re injured. They trust that he’ll have their best interest in mind.

“They want to keep players on the field,” Drake said. “That’s what they do. That’s what they do best. I don’t think anybody else in college football or anybody in the world does a better job than Alabama.”

Jeff Allen’s concern for players is also on display with the sideline medical tent the Crimson Tide has used since the 2015 season. Allen developed the tent with a pair of Alabama engineering students, and the concept spread around the country. The tent sells for $5,000.

The tent gives the athletic trainers and doctors a modicum of privacy on the sideline to examine players. If there’s bad news, the players can hear about it without the world knowing.

“We’ve had games with a camera right over top of us,” Allen said. “It’s crazy. It’s very hard to get a good evaluation. It’s obviously very taxing on the kid. We did it with the idea of privacy in mind and knowing it would help from a privacy standpoint. What I didn’t really fully appreciate until now, is how much more relaxed we all are in there. Thus, the evaluation is better. I feel like we’re getting a much better medical evaluation simply because we take away all the distractions that are so prominent on a sideline.”

It was a simple fix to a problem that had existed for years for men and women in Allen’s position. He just happened to be the first one to think of it.

That’s what Allen has always been after: an innovative solution. It puts the players first. It improves medical care.

Earlier this year, Allen was walking into Alabama’s practice when someone asked how sales of his new invention were doing.

“Still taping ankles,” he said, smiling.

Then he walked into practice.

Reach Ben Jones at or 205-722-0196.

College and University

Alabama’s Sideline Tent


When a player gets injured in a football game, they are typically brought to a trainer’s table on the sideline where a medical evaluation is done in front of 100,000 people and a television camera capturing every moment of pain and emotion. Short of taking a player back to the locker room, which presents its own logistical challenges, holding up towels is the only way to shield something from view.

Jeff Allen, who oversees the sports medicine training staff for Alabama’s athletic department, had long believed there was a better way.

“I think everybody recognizes it’s a difficult space to do a medical evaluation,” Allen said. “The first 10 minutes or so after an injury are critical in terms of getting an accurate diagnosis, and that type of environment presents some challenges, plus there’s a component of just medical privacy for the athlete.”

If you’ve watched an Alabama football game this season, you may have noticed a small collapsible tent at times on the sideline, where Allen and his team evaluate injured players. It will be there Monday night in Glendale, Ariz., when Alabama plays Clemson for the College Football Playoff title. Nobody else has anything like it.

But the tent is more than just a trinket to signify the opulence of Alabama football or the paranoia of a program that shields most of its inner-workings from public view. With four senior-level mechanical engineering students at Alabama bringing Allen’s idea to life, they have invented something that will likely be on just about every sideline in college football and perhaps the NFL in the next few years.

“We’ve definitely been pulling a thread, and it’s unraveled something we never would have been able to see in our wildest dreams a year ago,” said Jared Cassity, one of the co-inventors who graduated from Alabama in December with a mechanical engineering degree.  “It almost seems too simple. You look at it and think, ‘Why didn’t we have this before?’ ”

It turned out so well, in fact, that Alabama helped them file for a patent on the design before they revealed it to the world on Sept. 12 in a game against Middle Tennessee. Now, after countless inquiries from training staffs at other schools, Cassity along with Allen and another recent graduate, Patrick Powell, have gone into business together with a plan to market and sell the product to every level of football, from high schools and junior colleges all the way to the NFL.

It could be to Alabama football what Gatorade was to Florida.

“It’s really important we do our due diligence to capitalize on the opportunity,” Powell said. “There’s still a tremendous amount of work to be done. We’ve only made one. It’s just a prototype. It’s hard to say you’re hitting home runs every time when you’ve only made one. But it does have potential, and that’s exciting.”

In some ways, it’s a story that could only be possible at a school like Alabama where football is so central to the campus experience that the the College of Engineering frequently works with Allen to come up with student-driven projects that could benefit the athletic department.

This particular project was hatched last June when Allen and Dr. Charles Karr, dean of the engineering school, were kicking around ideas and discussed the need for a private area on the sideline where a medical evaluation could take place. Allen drew a rough sketch of a tent that could be erected around a training table and then folded back down in a matter of seconds.

Karr said he thought it would be a good opportunity for some senior-level students to work on a project that would take them from the design and engineering phase to building a prototype and eventually production.

“In engineering, it’s always a plus when we can associate ourselves with a world-class organization like Alabama football,” Karr said.

“It’s a really really fertile ground to come up with neat projects the kids can work on and see them implement it, to go through the process of developing intellectual property, applying for a patent on it and do real, live design of something that is sitting in front of millions of people.”

Cassity said the opportunity was presented to students in his senior-level design course to work on a secret project that would allow them to get two credits in one semester, but it would also be at least double the amount of work. Only after he signed up did Cassity — whose parents gave him the middle name “Bryant” after a certain Alabama football coach — find out it would be for the football team.

“We took that concept and fooled around with different ideas, and once we kind of had that base idea we realized, man, we’re really onto something,” he said. “A month later we had our first PVC pipe mock-up strung with cord from Home Depot. We got more and more good feedback, learned lessons, made some design changes. Then it hit us: We’ve got something special here, and there’s nothing else like it. When it got out there on the sideline on the practice field and had it locked onto the training table and saw it go up, I think everybody was kind of speechless how well it turned out.”


There are several design components that make the tent unique and so practical for football, starting with the fact the frame is actually anchored to and connected with the base of the trainer’s table. The covering expands and collapses like an accordion within 10 seconds and basically is just pulled over the top to erect the tent. It weighs about 70 pounds, making it easy to transport. The synthetic material covering it keeps out rain or other elements but also allows in enough light for doctors and trainers to see. It was designed to be sturdy and stable enough to go on any kind of surface that might be on a sideline — grass, artificial turf, concrete, asphalt, etc. — without needing to be staked or anchored into the ground with heavy weights like your typical tailgate tent. They also tested the height to make sure it doesn’t obstruct the view of fans.

There’s also an added bonus for schools: More advertising space to sell, which Alabama has utilized to display the logos of a local hospital and sports medicine center (for the College Football Playoff, it is using an Alabama-branded look).

Even Alabama players are impressed with it.

“I like it personally, because when someone gets hurt, no matter if it’s serious or not, you can go in there and have them evaluate you without everyone looking or having a bunch of attention on you,” Alabama receiver Richard Mullaney said. “It can be behind the scenes.”

Cassity used the example of Georgia’s Nick Chubb, who suffered a serious knee injury early this year at Tennessee. Television cameras quickly descended on him, discomfort and fear on his face broadcast in front of the entire country.

“It became a spectacle,” he said. “He has his whole career on the line, he might not want to tell the trainers what’s going on. Just being able to have that little bit of fabric between you and 100,000 fans completely changes the demeanor of the players. It’s not quiet, but it’s private and calm.”

Players have also found another, uh, practical use for it.

“If you gotta use the restroom, you can go in there,” tight end O.J. Howard said. “Sometimes you might have to (urinate) in a bottle or something. I’ve heard of guys doing that before. I think it’s cool how it pops up and then pops back down, but most of all it keeps you from having to go all the way to locker room. You can go in there, change, put on (a different piece of equipment) if you have to. It’s very convenient.”

Cassity said they were still working on pricing models for production, but the word has already gotten out among training staffs nationwide. It’s certainly possible it will be available to the masses by next season. Like everything else in college football, Alabama is once again the home of something everybody wants to copy.

“Honestly, it’s been better than we really thought it was going to be when we first started the whole process,” Allen said. “I feel very confident it’s something that will find its way onto just about every sideline.”



College and University

Alabama develops sideline medical tent


An Alabama player had gotten hurt against Middle Tennessee Sept. 12.

Shortly after, Tide football head athletic trainer Jeff Allen grabbed his walkie-talkie and made a first-time request, “Raise the tent up. We’re on our way.”

In the past, Alabama — like most schools — had people hold up towels and surround the trainer’s table while players were being evaluated in an attempt to provide privacy.

With the tent, that’s unnecessary.

The collapsible tent — which was developed by four students in UA’s College of Engineering – has become a staple of Alabama’s sideline since that game against Middle Tennessee.

When a Tide player is injured, the player and trainers typically head to the tent, which is easily opened and covers the trainer’s table.

That allows for a private evaluation process.

It is quickly looped back to the ground when no longer in use.

“It’s been a fantastic resource for us,” Allen said, “and probably better than we even envisioned.”

Allen came up with the idea during the offseason while brainstorming ways to increase privacy and lessen the distractions when injured players are being evaluated and treated on the sideline during a game.

Alabama’s Quick-Open Med-Tent 2 Alabama senior mechanical engineering students Jared Cassity and Patrick Powell demonstrate the quick-set-up medical tent that was developed for Alabama football in a collaboration between the Crimson tide athletics and the Alabama mechanical engineering students. 

In May, Allen met with Dr. Charles Karr, the dean of Alabama’s College of Engineering.

Karr later tasked four of senior students in mechanical engineering with constructing the tent as their senior design project.

Allen originally hoped to have a prototype by the end of the season. The students — Jared Cassity, Christian Parris, Jared Porteous and Patrick Powell — told him they would be able have the tent done by the start of the season.

There were two prototypes before the tent was finalized.

It was first utilized in a game against Middle Tennessee.

“Imagine going to the doctor’s office and sitting in the waiting room with 30 or 40 other people in the waiting room and having the doctor evaluate you,” Allen said. “Well, our guys are out on the sideline with 105,000 people watching them, not to mention millions on television. So it really has been beneficial for us.”

When open, the tent is around seven-feet tall, 16-feet long and weighs around 70 pounds.

Typically carried by two people before and after games, it is easily transportable.

It does not obstruct the view of fans at most stadiums, though Allen and members of Alabama’s training staff heard comments Allen declined to repeat from fans at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field Saturday when the tent was opened.

The stands at Kyle Field are uncommonly close to the bench areas of both teams.

The light-grey roof of the tent is transparent enough that trainers don’t need additional light while evaluating players.

In addition, the students used synthetic fabrics that allow for ventilation.

Every part of the tent that touches the ground is covered with heavy-grade ballistic nylon to protect it from wear and tear as well as from players’ cleats.

The exterior was designed to be UV and water resistant while the tent, Cassity said, is durable and “meant to take a hit if it has to.”

The students, Powell said, spent 25-30 hours per week for two months constructing the tent.

Allen said he has already gotten “a ton of calls” from other schools expressing interest in the tent.

“After doing this for 25-plus years, I’ve had so many guys that I’ve evaluated on the sideline that obviously the stress of the injury is compounded by everyone around them looking at them,” Allen said. “So now, we take them in there, and it’s a much more private environment. It’s a closed environment, and they tend to relax a little bit more, and we’re able to get a much better evaluation.”