ASU's Muse Following His Heart as Freshman Season Nears
Allen Muse awoke in a recovery room at New Orleans Children's Hospital.
It seemed that it had been just seconds since he had climbed onto the stainless steel surgical table, a mask had been applied to his face and he had been told to count backward from 10.
Muse got to eight, then came to plugged full of tubes, his body wracked by the pain in his broken chest. He had to suffer in silence thanks to the tube snaking down his throat, but when it was finally removed and he could speak, there was one thing on his mind.
Muse turned to his mother at his bedside.
"Call Coach Roberts," he said.
A few weeks earlier Muse had shown up on the Arkansas State campus feeling healthy and ready to throw his 6-foot-4 ½ inch frame into the competition for one of the Red Wolves' receiving jobs.
Steve Roberts and his staff had gotten plenty of mileage out of a smallish receiving corps over the years, and Muse was seen as payoff for the efforts to recruit some height.
"We've tried to recruit those type of guys," Roberts said, "just didn't have the success ... and we made it a point two years ago to go after that body type."
A survivor of Hurricane Katrina and a record-setting pass catcher at Leesville, La., High School - where Muse had wound up after the storm - he figured the bad things were past and a bright future in college football was ahead.
Then a routine physical followed by further tests uncovered a problem lurking in Muse's heart. Extra tissue was restricting blood flow and making the heart work harder than it should.
Muse was told he could have surgery, which would give him a 50-50 chance of playing football again, or skip the surgery, never play ball and run the risk of a stroke when he reached his mid-50s.
"Devastated. Mad. Angry," Muse said, recalling his reaction to the news. "Not trying to believe what they told me, that's the main thing. As soon as they told me I started praying, asking God for strength. Trying to figure out really what was going on because I'd been playing football all my life and this had never come up."
Muse and his parents, Kimberly and Alan Sr., had already endured their share of pain.
As their home in New Orleans' 9th Ward was swamped by Katrina's floodwaters on Aug. 29, 2005, Muse, - about to start his sophomore year of high school in the city - and his family took refuge with hundreds of others on the Interstate 10 Bridge across from the Louisiana Superdome. They were there for three days while their home was ruined beyond repair by four feet of water.
The Muses relocated to Leesville, in western Louisiana, and Muse resumed his football career while plans were made to rebuild the home in New Orleans. The first two years Leesville ran the option, and Muse figured he caught a total of eight balls his sophomore and junior seasons.
But in his senior year, Leesville went to the spread, and Muse had close to 890 yards to set the single-season record while the school won the district and went to the playoffs.
"It gave me the opportunity to show coaches what I could do," Muse said.
Arkansas State came calling, and the day Muse graduated from Leesville his family was able to move back to the rebuilt home in New Orleans. Things were definitely looking up, and then came Muse's first on-campus physical and the stunning diagnosis.
"I told Mom, when I first began high school the hurricane hit," Muse said. "After I get out of high school I've got to go through this. ‘What's really going on?' And she told me ‘Everything's going to be all right. Everything's going to be all right.' "
Muse didn't hesitate in opting for the surgery.
"They told me even if I did have surgery there was a chance I wouldn't be able to play because of my sternum," Muse said. "I just kept faith, that was it."
On Sept. 11, blood was drawn from Muse's arm, he was clad in embolism stockings to keep blood from clotting in his legs, and at 7 a.m. he was wheeled into surgery.
The moments immediately after the surgery were the worst, as Muse awoke lost and disoriented.
"I had to re-learn how to do things. It was real mind-boggling," Muse said. "I was trying to figure out how I got from one place to another. I was real confused. I had six tubes in me. I couldn't talk. I couldn't eat. I was in a lot of pain."
Muse's parents, who drove from New Orleans to Jonesboro as soon as they heard of his condition, stayed at his side and slept in the hospital before and after his surgery. Muse didn't remember his request to call Roberts; it was Kimberly who had to remind him.
But Muse didn't forget his desire to play football.
Told to wait three months, Muse started jogging at a park across the street from his home within four weeks.
"Every morning I'd wake up, go over there and sprint a couple laps," he said. "It was kind of hard at first. They tell you ... you're going to get short-winded. You're going to feel dizzy. Your sternum is going to hurt sometimes."
"They had to completely crack his chest open and everything," Roberts said. "Three weeks after his surgery he was working at UPS loading boxes on trucks. Shortly after that he got clearance to fully participate in college football."
Muse guessed he was at about 85 percent during spring practice. He would feel breathless at times, and he could really feel his sternum after weight training.
And Muse admitted to a bit of a mental flinch when he took that first big hit in a scrimmage.
"In the back of my mind I was like ‘I've got a huge scar on my chest,' " he said.
Muse feels fully recovered now, and all doctors have cleared him to play. But he doesn't have to. He doesn't have to push his repaired heart like this; he doesn't have to take football's daily punishments.
Many people say Muse has already been through enough.
"I tell them, ‘I just love it that much, I guess,' " Muse said.
Roberts marvels at Muse's recuperative powers, but there is another story he likes to tell. It involves Muse and an exam he took in an online course.
Muse hadn't done so hot on the test, at least not by his standards, and he went to his teacher asking for a second chance. In the course of the conversation, Muse realized the test, as they are in all online courses, had been open book.
But Muse, thinking it would be cheating, hadn't used the book. No one was watching him, he was all alone, but he hadn't used the book.
Maybe a guy like that just deserves to play a little football, if he wants.
"He's just that type of kid," Roberts said. "He's going to do everything he can to display the type of character he has."
By Todd Traub
Special to the Arkansas State Athletics Department from Todd Traub
Courtesy: ASU Sports Information