From star to servant: How Cannon Allen found his new role

Cannon Allen was bred to be a star athlete. His parents were college athletes. His sisters are college athletes. His grandfather ran track at Indiana.

“It was kind of the culture of the Allen household,” Cannon says. “That’s what I was going to be, and I was very successful in everything I did.”

The sport that Allen loved the most, though, was soccer. He was a standout, scoring over 60 goals for his high school team. He had already been recruited to play at Wheaton and his future seemed to be aligned perfectly. But despite the individual accolades, it was his junior year that left a bad taste in Allen’s mouth. Allen played for a club team comprised of talented individuals who did not care for each other. They had a lot of on field success, but the general atmosphere was selfish.  To say his experience was frustrating would be an understatement.

“It was the worst team dynamic I had ever experienced.” Allen recalls.

It was so bad that during the third place game for State Cup, a fed up Allen asked to be subbed out. Little did Allen know that it would be the last soccer game he would play for almost five years.

“Walking off that field, I never thought that was potentially my last game,” Allen says. “But it almost was.”

Allen’s future took a sharp turn during a basketball game his senior year of high school. At the end of a blowout win with the underclassmen at the scorer’s table ready to take out the seniors, Allen went up to block a layup. He collided with the other player, landed awkwardly on his right foot and, as he describes it, felt his knee “literally explode.”

After getting an MRI, a doctor told Allen he had “done quite a number on the knee,” and would require major surgery.

“I remember looking at my mom and saying ‘I am never going to be an athlete again,” Allen recalls.

The injury caused Allen to miss his entire freshman soccer season at Wheaton, and, as he prepared for a comeback in the fall of his sophomore year, he had a major setback. At one of the first practices of the regular season, Allen turned and badly tore the meniscus in the same knee. This time doctors had to remove 60 percent of the meniscus, forcing Allen to miss the rest of that season and his junior year as well.

“That night, I remember lying in bed and weeping,” Allen says. “I just thought ‘I am never going to play the sport I love.’”

With one year left at Wheaton, Allen made another attempt at a comeback this season, admittedly as a shell of his former self. As a result, he had to take on new roles: as a servant and a leader

“It was pretty transformative, to go through two bad injuries,” Allen says, “with my mind knowing what I could do, but my body can’t do it anymore, and being okay with it. I find myself having to serve the other 29 guys on the team to be served, which I never had to do before.”

“He has always responded by finding other ways to serve and benefit the team,” Allen’s teammate, fellow senior Jordan Golz says. “I have never met another college athlete who has responded to injuries like Cannon has.”

On the field, Allen’s service was rewarded on Saturday, Oct. 25 against North Central. With Wheaton leading 4-1 late in the game, the starters were subbed out and Allen, for the first time in his career, got his chance to step onto the field for a college soccer game.

“It was kind of surreal, not having been out there in years,” Allen recollects.

It did not take long for Allen to leave his mark. With a couple of minutes left, Allen got the ball at the top of the box and, for reasons still unknown to everyone there, the seas parted for one shot.

“No one this year has had that wide open of a look,” Allen says. “It was really weird. I hit it, and I didn’t even watch it go in.”

“It was absolutely incredible,: Golz recalls “I really can’t put into words the team’s spirits after that goal, but it was something Cannon, my teammates and I will never forget.”

In terms of the game’s final, Allen’s goal meant little. But despite the fact that the win over North Central was a key win in Wheaton’s run to a CCIW title, it was Allen’s goal that became the talk of the town. Everyone around him was ecstatic to see the culmination of four years of hard work and rehab result in a goal. Allen, on the other hand, saw it not as his moment but as another piece in what has become a lifelong lesson.

“The last three years has been a time when I have had to make myself the smallest man,” Allen says. “I would have loved for me to have learned it another way, but hey.”

The damage to Allen’s knee has kept him out of the rotation for his senior season. And while he sometimes wishes he could play more, he has fully embraced his purpose on this team.

“Everyone is fighting for playing time, and I’m just battling to play,” Allen says. “The fact that I can just put on practice gear and my cleats are about to rip and all I’ve gotten to do my senior year is practice? I love it.”

Allen has yet to miss a practice all season.

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