Packers WR Geronimo Allison out to make grade

Scott Venci
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Green Bay Packers rookie wide receiver Geronimo Allison looks on during a rookie camp practice May 6.

GREEN BAY - Geronimo Allison wasn’t the kind of person to ask for help when he needed it.

So it’s a good thing a chance meeting with Anne Caparaso happened one summer day before his senior year of high school in 2011.

If not, there’s no way to know if the 6-foot-3, 196-pound wide receiver out of the University of Illinois would be in the position he finds himself after signing with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent last month.

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Allison and his mother, Melissa, had just finished meeting with a guidance counselor at Spoto High School in Riverview, Fla., that day. They were walking out of the school as Caparaso was walking in.

Caparaso, a teacher in the Hillsborough County School district, knew all about Allison. He had worked his way up to varsity as a freshman on a Spoto football team coached by her husband. He was good enough as a rookie playing for Caparaso's husband, Dale, that he was being double-covered at times. He also had a leadership ability that even seniors seemed to gravitate toward.

But Allison was ineligible to play as a sophomore because of academics. His junior season was wiped away for the same reason.

When Caparaso saw Allison, she wanted to know if he was coming out for football as a senior. She told him Dale would love to have him.

There was just one problem.

Allison had just been informed he wouldn’t be eligible for a third straight year. He was in danger of not graduating because of a grade-point average just shy of a 2.0.

Caparaso asked Melissa if she could leave her son with her for a couple hours. Caparaso had started a summer tutoring program a year after her husband was hired in 2008. The team had several talented players, but there were a lot more of them who couldn’t play because of grades.

Caparaso signed Allison up for two online classes that afternoon and became his tutor. They worked together most mornings during the week and then again at night after workouts. Allison didn’t have a computer at home, so Caparaso made sure there always was one for him to work on. By the end of the summer, Allison had gotten A’s in both classes. He also was eligible to play football.

“I said, ‘Let’s take care of this,’” Caparaso said. “His mom is a great lady, and she jumped on it and Geronimo jumped on it. He did the work, and here we are. It’s a happy thing.

“I didn’t have to get on him very much. He really just kind of needed the structure of it. He had been a kid who just didn’t get into school, and I don’t think anybody took the time.”

With her help, grades never were a problem again. In the meantime, Allison’s football career flourished.

He caught 26 passes for 567 yards and four touchdowns his senior season and then played two years at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs.

Allison enjoyed success there, leading his team to the NJCAA national title in 2012 after catching 69 passes for 872 yards and eight TDs. The next season he ranked second in the nation with 65 catches for 882 yards and three scores.

He also graduated in three semesters with a 3.0 GPA.

“I just didn’t devote myself to grades,” Allison said about his early struggles. “I just kind of wanted to play ball, not knowing that a GPA was a requirement to play ball. That was a struggle for me throughout high school. It took me a minute to own up and realize that.”

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With both his football and academic life in order, Allison had several NCAA Division I schools to pick from before deciding on Illinois.

Allison had 41 receptions and five TDs as a junior in 2014 before establishing himself as the top receiver on the team as a senior last season. He finished fifth in the Big Ten with 65 catches and seventh in receiving yards with 882.

“I think the first time that I thought Geronimo (might play in the NFL) was when they played Washington when Geronimo was a junior,” Dale Caparaso said. “Anne and I were watching the game on the Big Ten Network and I looked at Anne and said, ‘You know what? I think it could happen for this kid.’ He had nine or 10 catches that game for 160 yards. This is big-time ball. You don’t get any bigger than this.”

Allison’s stock appeared to be going up by the time the NFL draft arrived last month. He was one of the most impressive players during practices for the East-West Shrine Game in January and then led all receivers in the game with six catches for 68 yards and two TDs.

Allison's draft profile on indicated he’s a below-average deep threat with a drop rate of just over 11 percent in 2015. But it also talked about how he is a receiver who will fight through a tackle to make a catch, an above-average blocker on the edge, and as Dale Caparaso would tell anyone, a player who takes his role as a team leader seriously.

There was a chance he’d get selected on the third and final day of the draft. He waited all afternoon to see his name on the screen.

It never was called.

When it reached the seventh round, Dale Caparaso walked over to Allison during his draft party at a Lee Roy Selmon’s restaurant in Brandon, Fla., and told him to hope he wasn’t selected. His phone had been ringing throughout the day from interested teams and Allison would have a chance to pick the best situation.

“It was a disappointment, but it was a possibility going into the draft,” Allison said. “Things happen. I’m past that. Moved on. Now I have an opportunity here with the Packers, and I’m just going to try to make the most of it.”

Dale and Anne Caparaso were two of the last people to leave the party that night. Dale told Allison to take a deep breath and go where he wanted to go.

The couple was seven or eight miles down the road when Dale received a call from Allison's mother, asking them to come back. Allison had just made the decision to sign with the Packers. He liked the thought of catching passes from Aaron Rodgers, but he also liked Green Bay’s history of giving undrafted free agents a chance.

By the time the Caparasos arrived, Allison’s eyes were filled with tears. He always had dreamed of playing in the NFL even when he was struggling with his grades, and this was the first door being opened.

It will be a battle to make the Packers’ roster at a position that has a lot of talent in front of him, but Allison seems to do well when the odds are against him.

“I think he has a great opportunity,” Dale Caparaso said. “He just needs to perform. When they have OTAs, he needs to perform. If he makes it to camp, he needs to perform. The first time he gets into a game, he needs to perform.

“Trust me when I tell you this, don’t be surprised if he ends up on somebody’s NFL roster.”

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