WKU running back Leon Allen could return in 2017

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If Leon Allen makes his way back to the playing field in 2017, it will have been nearly two years since the running back has played in a game for Western Kentucky.

But that possibility is now very real.

Allen could play next season if granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. The 6-foot, 235-pound native of Bradenton, Fla., missed all of 2016 and most of 2015 after a devastating knee injury appeared to end his career.

“I haven’t had a chance to really get to know (Allen),” WKU’s first-year coach Mike Sanford said Friday. “The biggest thing for me as it pertains to (Allen) is I want (Allen) to be a success story here at Western Kentucky. He’s one of the best running backs in the country over the course of his first few years here on The Hill.

“I think (Allen’s) shown a willingness and the determination to wanna be the guy that finishes right. Our vision for this program and what we wanna see is guys that are holding that WKU diploma in one hand and five championship rings in the other – just one on every finger. I want (Allen) to be the guy that completes that mission with a great sixth year here.”

On Sept. 10, 2015, Allen curled off into the left flat on a passing play in a game against Louisiana Tech at Houchens-Smith Stadium. He was hit low by Tech linebacker Nick Thomason – and hasn’t been on the field since.

Allen had 12 carries for 81 yards and a touchdown to go along with a 53-yard reception in that game. His versatility, speed and power made him an intriguing prospect and many thought he had a chance to be selected in the 2016 NFL Draft higher than any of his teammates.

Instead, Allen spent the remainder of the 2015 season in rehabilitation and in the operating room – twice – while WKU finished the year winning 10 of its final 12 games, the Conference USA title and the Miami Beach Bowl.

From 2012 until the injury, Allen played in 37 games, rushed for 2,353 yards and 22 touchdowns. He caught 79 passes for 746 yards and four TDs. On Nov. 15, 2014 against Army he ran for 345 yards on 33 carries.

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop