Allison has big goal in mind

Allison has big goal in mind

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Geronimo Allison celebrated his birthday this past Monday.  

The former Illinois wide receiver turned 22 years old, and the Florida native was back in his hometown of Tampa.

He wasn’t there, however, just to kick it with old friends.

The leading pass catcher in 2015 for the Illini, with 65 receptions for 882 yards, has practiced the last week with some of the past season’s top college football players to get ready for Saturday’s 91st annual East-West Shrine Game.

One of five ex-Illini at the game, more than any other school has at the game, Allison has ample motivation for wanting to reach the NFL.

He can point to his tight relationship with his mother, Melissa Golver, for all the incentive he needs, and the recent struggles the single mom is enduring.

“Recently, she was working on a job for about 14 or 15 years, and she just got laid off,” Allison said.

“We’re putting in applications for unemployment, so me making this transition to the next level is going to be big for our future and help out a lot,” Allison added.

It’s a key reason he didn’t hesitate when asked what he would buy first if he signs an NFL contract: a car for his mom.

“I love my mom to death, and I would never tell my mom no,” Allison said. “Anything she’d ask for, I’d be there to help her out or provide for her. She doesn’t have any transportation right now, so she needs that to get around and take care of things she needs to do.”

Allison isn’t a lock to get chosen in the NFL draft, which will play out April 28-30 in Chicago. Neither are any of the four other Illini playing on Saturday — running back Josh Ferguson, cornerback/kick returner V’Angelo Bentley, safety Clayton Fejedelem and offensive lineman Ted Karras — or Jihad Ward, the former Illini defensive end slated to play in the Senior Bowl next Saturday.

Much has changed for Allison since he last played for Illinois during the team’s season-ending 24-14 loss to Northwestern on Nov. 28 at Soldier Field. He’s moved back home, where he is training in Tampa and living in his childhood home with his mom, his brother and his grandparents.

He has an agent, James Martin from OTG Sports, and is on the waiting list to see if he’ll receive an invitation to the NFL combine that starts Feb. 23 in Indianapolis.

Until then, he’ll prepare to impress Saturday at Tropicana Field, the same venue where he watched his favorite baseball team, the Tampa Bay Rays, play during his childhood.

“It’s going to be different, but I look for it to be exciting,” Allison said. “I’m going to embrace the opportunity and just have fun with it.”

Allison’s path to Illinois is well-documented. He didn’t have good enough grades and didn’t stay out of trouble enough at Spoto High School to play football his sophomore and junior years before making enough of an impression his senior year, along with elevating his grades, to receive a scholarship to Iowa Western Community College.

He spent two seasons with the Reivers, helping them win a national title in 2012, and then arrived at Illinois for the spring semester in 2014.

“I remember calling him one time, trying to recruit him here,” Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt said. “He was a really soft-spoken guy. I knew his name was Geronimo and that was pretty cool, but that was pretty much all I knew about him.

“Once he got here, he was very confident but quiet. You knew he had the ability and that he was going to be a good player. He’s a guy that’s worked for everything he’s had. He stayed here over spring break and worked out. He didn’t want to go home and get in trouble. That tells you about his character, and I just pray that he gets the opportunity at the next level because he’ll make the most of it.”

Allison will suit up for the West team on Saturday, along with Bentley, Fejedelem and Karras. Ferguson lines up for the East team — “I think it’s just a numbers game where they needed another guy over there,” Ferguson said — but the week has opened Allison’s eyes about what to expect in the months ahead as he tries to become the first Illini wide receiver drafted since A.J. Jenkins was a first-round pick in 2012.

“When I’m meeting with a lot of scouts, they’re asking a lot of the same questions and asking about my background information and just getting to know me right now,” Allison said. “They’re asking about my journey going through the juco route and my time in high school. It’s just meeting me and getting a feel for me as a person.

“It’s been interesting, but I am who I am. It’s good that I have a great story that I’m able to share. I’ve been through a lot of experiences and took a different route than most, so that’s what makes my story different from somebody else’s. I just embrace it.”