Fla. HS football player Jacob Allen overcomes illness, Hurricane Irma to get to National Combine

Photo: Submitted/Angelica Allen

Fla. HS football player Jacob Allen overcomes illness, Hurricane Irma to get to National Combine

Football

Fla. HS football player Jacob Allen overcomes illness, Hurricane Irma to get to National Combine

When Jacob Allen steps onto the field at the Alamodome this weekend, he’ll be defying a series of steep odds.

Allen, a sophomore lineman at First Baptist Academy, is one of the top 600 underclass high school football players in the nation who were invited to the National Combine in San Antonio, Texas. The Combine, which sent invites to 16 players from Southwest Florida, is Friday and is a precursor to the All-American Bowl senior all-star game.

According to doctors, Allen shouldn’t be on the football field at all, much less among the best of the best.

As recently as six years ago, the 6-foot, 270-pound, strong-jawed teenager was a sickly child, stuck in the bathroom vomiting or confined to the couch for his breathing treatments, or simply in agony from repeated ear infections.

Just 14 months ago, Allen was homeless — his family lost their house in Hurricane Irma.

Allen is out to prove himself against the nation’s best at the National Combine, and he won’t be intimidated by the competition. He’s been proving himself all his life.

More: Southwest Florida players invited to National Combine

More: 2018 Naples Daily News All-Area Football Offense Team

More: 2018 Naples Daily News All-Area Football Defense Team

Wisened and matured past his 15 years by his tribulations, Allen says he’s not in San Antonio in spite of his struggles. He’s there because of them.

“To prove to people who said to my face that I’d never become something, that told me I’d never play football,” Allen said. “It drives me, everything in my past. Everything people said I couldn’t do, that’s what I’m coming for.”

Wanting to be normal

Watching Allen pancake a defender or take down a quarterback on Friday nights, it’s hard to imagine him as a frail, undersized baby in and out of the hospital. However, Allen had trouble from the start of his life.

He spent the first weeks of his life in a neonatal intensive care unit in a Virginia hospital after being born prematurely. His lungs were underdeveloped and he struggled to breath. The baby also suffered from severe gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), causing him to projectile vomit nearly all food.

Jacob and his mother, Angelica, moved to Naples when he was an infant. They joined his father, Chris, who had taken a job with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office shortly before Jacob was born.

Jacob spent his first 10 years rotating through doctors, specialists and emergency room visits as they tried to find a cure for his breathing problems and his vomiting. He took steroids and did breathing treatments with a nebulizer multiple times a day. He developed asthma, which doctors believe was caused by the GERD.

Before kindergarten, Jacob already had surgery to remove his tonsils and adenoid glands near the roof of his mouth to help him breathe.

In elementary school, Allen spent as much time in the bathroom or clutching a waste basket as in class. He would throw up multiple times a day, including at night.

“He was scared to go to sleep,” Angelica said. “Imagine the anxiety of trying to go to sleep only to wake up gagging. And he couldn’t scream for help. (Chris and I) were sleeping in shifts (to monitor him).”

Doctors also found Jacob had perforated eardrums. He had to take painful ear drops and wear plugs until surgery to correct the holes inside his ears at the age of 9.

Angelica couldn’t keep a job because caring for Jacob was an around-the-clock task. He would get upper respiratory infections, as well as other illnesses because his immune system was weakened by the steroids.

“I realized I’m not going to be a normal kid,” Jacob said. “I wouldn’t be able to do the stuff I wanted to do. I saw normal kids go out and play with friends, go to parties, and I was stuck there in the bathroom.

“I remember praying at night for it to stop. ‘Why is this happening to me? I’ve had enough already.’”

Stepping onto the field

Jacob yearned to do what normal kids did. To him, that meant playing sports. Medically, though, it was out of the question.

“Doctors told him he would never play sports,” Angelica said. “They said he’d always have trouble breathing. We went (to doctors) from here to St. Pete to Miami. We went everywhere, and they all said the same thing.”

It was Chris, a former high school football player and Marine, who wanted to give his son a chance at normality. So, at the age of 4, Jacob started playing soccer at the Naples YMCA.

He did well enough that the Allens decided to give football a try. The parents took all the necessary precautions – inhaler on the sideline, frequent breaks, informing the coach of his health struggles – and Jacob flourished.

“Absolutely,” Chris said when asked if he was nervous. “But as a father, sometimes you have to take that risk. Sometimes you’ve got to push it.”

Jacob started in the Naples Gators youth football league when he was 5 and later moved to the First Baptist Beacons. He had an asthma attack on the field around sixth grade, but that was the only issue.

After starting sports, a change happened in Jacob that neither his parents nor his doctors can explain.

Around the age of 10, Jacob’s maladies began to dissipate for seemingly no reason.

He could breathe better. No more asthma attacks. He didn’t need the steroids or the nebulizer. Perhaps biggest of all, the GERD went away.

At 10 years old, Jacob ate his first slice of pizza. Certain foods still upset his stomach, but Jacob has learned what he can and can’t eat. He keeps it basic – mostly chicken, vegetables and 1-percent milk. Still, it’s a huge improvement from when he lived mostly off PediaSure, a protein drink that helps children gain weight, the first 10 years of his life.

“It’s just been a miraculous turn because it wasn’t supposed to be this way,” Angelica said. “All the specialists said he was not supposed to outgrow his asthma and the acid reflux problem would always be severe, and it’s not.

“God has worked in tremendous ways.”

More: St. John Neumann do-it-all star Jensen Jones wins Broxson Trophy

Surviving Irma

Jacob finally considers himself a normal kid. He’s learned to monitor his body in case of asthma or GERD attacks and take the necessary precautions.

After getting through physical struggles early in life, the Allen family has weathered another storm, one they’re still getting through.

The Allens lost their home in Hurricane Irma in September 2017. It was an aging wood-framed home with a suspect roof to begin with. The Category 3 storm tore a hole in the roof, and rain soaked everything the Allens couldn’t take with them as they stayed at a friend’s home.

By the time the flood waters receded and the trees had been cleared, it was 14 days later before the family could get into the house they bought when Jacob was 3. All their possessions were destroyed.

“I was in shock,” Jacob said. “That was my entire childhood in that home. There were a lot of memories. A lot of suffering, but a lot of happiness with my family, too. I had to be there for my mom, so I didn’t let it get to me, but it built up inside of me.”

Angelica and Jacob spent more than two months after Irma moving from house to house, sleeping in friends’ guest bedrooms, couches and sometimes floors. Chris, a detective with the Sheriff’s Department, spent much of the time, especially the first few weeks, at work helping clean up the community.

To make matters worse, the Allens did not have homeowner’s insurance. Angelica said their insurance company recently had dropped them for too many claims in one year, although the family made two claims for the same leak in their roof.

Just as he had done as a sick child, Jacob turned to football for normalcy.

“Anytime I would go to football practice, I would love it,” Allen said. “I would hope it wouldn’t end because when it ended I would go to some stranger’s home to sleep on the ground.

“Football was my way out. It was what I put all my anger into. My teammates felt my hits for a couple weeks.”

It took almost three months, but the Allens found a new home in late November 2017. They bought the house sight unseen because affordable houses were selling so quickly in Naples. The family has spent the last year saving up to furnish the home piece by piece. For Christmas, Jacob received a bedroom set.

Rising again

In Jacob’s newly furnished bedroom hangs a picture of a football player holding a ball under the words “All men fall, but only great men rise again.”

It’s a paraphrase of the Bible verse Proverbs 24:16, and it’s a motto Jacob has lived by.

Were Jacob a normal health boy, maybe he wouldn’t be in San Antonio this week. He credits his constant illnesses and ailments as a child with giving him a high pain tolerance. When he’s tired and winded, Jacob reminds himself that it’s nothing compared to the struggles he once faced.

“I just remember what it felt like (as a kid),” Jacob said. “It motivates me working out. I just start thinking that a couple years back no one thought I’d be doing half this stuff. Every time it hurts, every time it gets hard, I think, ‘I’m wheezing now, but before I couldn’t even breathe on my own.’”

That attitude has given Jacob a tremendous work ethic, which shines in the weight room.

Attacking his workouts with ferocity allowed Jacob to mold himself into a varsity offensive lineman as a freshman. He started at left tackle as a sophomore this past season, but he played all five positions on the line when needed. Jacob also had 20 tackles on the defensive line.

“He enjoys the weight room,” First Baptist Academy football coach Billy Sparacio said. “Those who really have a knack for (lifting) and enjoy it and apply themselves benefit so much. Jacob has been one of those guys. He’s found a home in there.”

Jacob’s goal is to use football to repay his parents. He hopes to earn a college scholarship so his mom and dad don’t have to worry about affording his education after all the medical and Irma-related costs they’ve incurred.

The path to college, he hopes, begins in San Antonio. Jacob also recently was invited the Blue-Grey All-American Combine. Like the National Combine which is tied to the All-American Bowl, the Blue-Grey combine in March in Daytona Beach coincides with the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl. Both bowls are national all-star games for high school seniors.

Jacob said his job in the next few months is to get noticed by college recruiters. Meanwhile, he and his family continue to be amazed that he can even play football at all after the struggles in his life.

“I’m just waving my hands around trying to get anyone to see me,” Jacob said. “That’s why I do what I do, why I work so hard. I cannot wait to get to San Antonio and prove what I can do. It’s a gigantic blessing.”

Southwest Florida players invited to the FBU National Combine, Jan. 3-5, in San Antonio, Texas:

Name                               School                    Pos.    Year
Terry Lindsey                    Bishop Verot           RB      JR
Brandon Benjamin            Dunbar                    RB      JR
Jadarius McKnight            Dunbar                    DB     JR
Jacob Allen                       First Baptist             OL/DL    SO
Brady Dean                       First Baptist            QB     SO
John Coleus                      Fort Myers              DB     JR
R.J. Rosales                     Immokalee              QB     JR
Charles Toombs                Immokalee              DB     JR
Dominic Mammarelli         Naples                     TE      JR
Devin Moore                     Naples                     DB     FR
Dominic Ponder                Naples                     QB     FR
Malique Dieudonne           Palmetto Ridge       WR     SO
Kamonte Grimes               Palmetto Ridge       WR     SO
Justin Mathieu                  St. John Neumann   DB     JR
John Paul Raiger              St. John Neumann   DB     JR
Cayden Baker                  SWFL Christian        TE      JR

Latest

More USA TODAY High School Sports
Home
https://usatodayhss.com/2019/fla-hs-football-player-jacob-allen-overcomes-illness-hurricane-irma-to-get-to-national-combine
Fla. HS football player Jacob Allen overcomes illness, Hurricane Irma to get to National Combine
I found this story on USA TODAY High School Sports and wanted to share it with you: %link% For more high school stories, stats and videos, visit http://usatodayhss.com.