football Edit

Illini receiver has made a career out of bouncing back

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CHAMPAIGN - Geronimo Allison first found a way to make the grade, then found his way back to the football field after missing two seasons of high school career because of academic ineligibility.
After a trip through the junior college ranks, Allison eventually found a path to major-college football as a wide receiver with the Illini.
With Illinois searching for capable receivers and open targets for quarterback Wes Lunt, Allison is a keeper. The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder from Spoto High School in Tampa is the first choice for Lunt. He might also be the second, third and fourth choices.
While the rest of the young Illini receiver corps attempts to get some traction and handle the jump to the bright lights of the Division I game, Allison is the most reliable target, even though he's looking for a bounce back performance after a couple untimely drops in the 48-14 loss to North Carolina last weekend.
"I don't foresee that happening any more this year,'' said Illini wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy. "He'll bounce back.''
Allison has made a career out of bouncing back and finding his way back to his feet.
He was ineligible to play football during his sophomore and junior seasons of high school football. The recruiters didn't wait on him. By the time Allison reached his senior season, the only way to big time college football would come through junior college ball.
He first made contact with coaches from Iowa Western Community College during a seven-on-seven session prior to his senior season at Spoto.
"At the time, I didn't have any offers going into the season because the majority of my high school (career), I was ineligible,'' Allison said. "I only played my freshmen and senior seasons of football.''
Allison grew up in the Progress Village area in Tampa, a "tough neighborhood,'' Allison said, "with a lot of drugs.'' He relied upon the support of his mother, Melissa Glover, and Spoto coach Dale Caparaso. Along with his wife, Anne, Caparaso ran a tutoring program that allowed Allison to regain his eligibility.
"That's how I had an opportunity to play and showcase my skills,'' Allison said.
Of course, it's tough to sign with an obscure junior college in the Midwest when other players from his area were going to Florida, Florida State, Miami and nearly every other famous spot in the college football landscape.
"A lot of coaches back home and some friends were kind of scared for me going the JUCO route because sometimes you can get lost in the system,'' Allison said. "My focus was going there, getting my grades and excelling on the football field.''
Iowa Western became more than just another junior college. The school won the NJCAA national championship in 2012 when Allison was a freshman, then he led the program with 69 catches for 872 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore during a one-loss season.
He eventually followed for Iowa Western teammate Martize Barr to Illinois. Illini assistants Alex Golesh and Bellamy were tracking Allison.
"Martize was a big reason why I came to Illinois,'' Allison said. "He was a year ahead of me. I kind of wanted to go somewhere there was a teammate and a friend to make the process easier.''
Learn and grow
Three games into his final college season, Allison knows more than ever that nothing comes easy. He has 14 catches for 241 yards and one touchdown, serving as the playmaker at receiver. But those drops against North Carolina don't let him sleep much this week.
"You really just have to focus more,'' Allison said. "Adversity is going to hit. You have to welcome pressure and just move forward. When you get the opportunity, make the play. It's easy to say, but so much harder to do. You just have to have confidence in yourself that you can do it consistently.''
Allison, once sidelined in high school because he wasn't a student in the classroom, has become a student of the game.
"I did a lot of work and a lot of studying the game in the offseason,'' Allison said. "Working on my technique, understanding coverages and how I need to work my route.''
The Illini just didn't make enough plays on offense, in particular because of nine dropped passes and some pre-snap penalties.
"You're never as bad as you think and you are never as good as you think,'' said Illini interim coach Bill Cubit. "We dropped nine balls. That's been a little bit of an issue. We have 21 already in three games. I've been places where we didn't have 21 all season.''
The toughest was probably Allison's in the end zone in the first quarter on a fourth and goal from the North Carolina 1.
"As a leader, he was disappointed,'' Bellamy said. "He wanted the ball in his hands, and not everybody gets that opportunity. He didn't sulk. He knew he has to make plays. After he watched the film, it hit him a little harder, so he's working harder.''
Like most of the wide receivers, Allison is making a transition. While much of the receiver corps is jumping into college from playing high school last season, Allison is going from major college rookie last season to Illini leader at wide receiver.
With Mike Dudek out while recovering from a knee injury last season and Justin Hardee also out because of a foot injury, the Illini are missing their two best receivers. Suddenly, sophomore Marchie Murdock and freshmen earned bigger roles. It comes down to getting the job done, Cubit said.
"You're going to make the play or not make the play,'' Cubit said. "A lot of guys are in spots they've never been before. Mikey and Hardee are out. (Allison) has the load on him now. Marchie had one pass all last year. They're in spots unfamiliar to them. That's college football. You have to be accountable.''
It's about attitude as much as anything, Cubit said.
"You go down there thinking, 'You better not drop it, you better not drop it,''' Cubit said. "Or, 'I can't wait to get this and score the touchdown.' There are two schools of thought. Sometimes the negative comes into play.''
Murdock has made some catches for primarily short gains. True freshmen Sam Mays and Desmond Cain have talent but need to grow up fast. Sophomore Malik Turner, who has started two of the three games, has made little impact yet.
Meanwhile, Allison just wants to get better and keep working in the film room, practice field and game action. The kid who didn't get a chance to play much high school ball and whose first love was baseball has big things on his mind.
"My goal is to graduate in December,'' Allison said. "That's No. 1, getting my degree and making my mom proud.''
And there's another game after the 34-point loss to North Carolina. In fact, there are still nine more games ahead for the Illini, so Cubit is reminding everyone the sky hasn't fallen after one loss.
"The end of the world hasn't happened,'' Cubit said. "I tell our guys they're good players, that's the only way to do it. I know the fans, the kids and the coaches are disappointed. Let's go. Let's be positive and let's go.''
John Supinie is Illini football columnist for During the day, he's an Audi Brand Specialist at Green Audi in Springfield. Call or text him at 217-377-1977 if you're looking for an Audi, Volkswagen, Toyota or preowned car. Ask for the Illini deal.
Illinois (2-1) vs. Middle Tennessee State (2-1)
3 p.m. Saturday (BTN), Memorial Stadium, Champaign
MATCHUP: The Illini come off a disappointing 34-point loss to North Carolina and face a program that's a contender for a bowl berth. The Blue Raiders are picked to finish third in the highly competitive East Division in Conference USA. They sandwiched a 37-10 loss at Alabama with a pair of blowout wins - 70-14 vs. Jackson State and 73-14 over Charlotte. Middle Tennessee State scored five touchdowns in 97 seconds against Charlotte.
NOTE: The Illini must dig deeper on the depth chart at tight end. Starter Tyler White won't play after a concussion against North Carolina. The top two backups are already out. That leaves Andrew Davis, who had three catches for 16 yards against the Tar Heels, plus two more seldom used players.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Illini DE Jihad Ward. With Middle Tennessee State looking to throw the ball, the Illini could use a big day from the defensive line. Illinois has just one sack in three games, and Ward is the most likely candidate for as a playmaker on the defensive line.