Green Bay - She could’ve named her youngest boy Joe. Something that wouldn’t attract attention. Just blend with the crowd.
But Melissa Glover expected her child to stand out. Demanded it. In a “rough, rough neighborhood” near Riverview and Progress Village, just 20 minutes southeast of Tampa, Fla., Glover hoped her son would rise above the drugs and gang violence.
What’s in a name? Glover thought it had the power to be a stepping stone.
So she brainstormed. She asked for ideas. She prayed. Glover wanted her son to be unique. One day, she said, a friend’s suggestion stuck.
She named her youngest boy Geronimo.
“It was just a unique name,” she says now, chuckling. “I never thought his name would make him popular to this day.”
Geronimo Allison’s name has embodied his journey.
In high school, he twice was academically ineligible. His lone varsity football season came as a senior. Allison received a scholarship to Iowa Western Community College, traveling 1,500 miles from home. He turned it into two seasons at the University of Illinois.
Now, he’s trying to do something just as unlikely.
An undrafted receiver, Allison hopes to ascend the Green Bay Packers' crammed depth chart. He had one catch in Friday night’s preseason opener, converting third-and-1 into a first down. Two days earlier, in his team’s final practice before the game, Allison caught two touchdowns from Aaron Rodgers.
Each day becomes more important from here. Entering Thursday night’s preseason game against the Oakland Raiders, Allison is contending for a roster spot.
“He’s making a lot of great plays,” Rodgers said. “He’s doing a really good job for us. He offers something a little bit different with his size, and his ability to catch the ball and use his body to shield defenders and make contested catches.”
His mother couldn’t have known how Geronimo’s name would define him. She didn’t see the challenges he’d overcome. From the brink of life spiraling out of control, he rose above.
In hindsight, Geronimo knows, it’s fitting he was named after a fighter.
Before high school, As and Bs dotted his report card. Geronimo Allison was a dedicated student, his mother remembers. Glover never worried before parent-teacher meetings.
Something changed in his freshman year. School became a struggle. A burden. A bore. To pass time, Allison says, he started hanging with the wrong people.
Blending with the crowd.
“He kind of gave up for a moment,” Glover says.
Crime was rampant in Allison’s neighborhood, he says. His family, including grandparents and older brother Deonte, crammed inside a three-bedroom, one-bath house. This was their fortress. Allison says he shared a bedroom with his mother.
He doesn’t want to relive details, preferring to leave the past behind, but Allison says he was exposed to things most kids can’t imagine. Guns. Drugs. Violence. The allure of gang life was constant temptation.
Sports provided an escape. Allison played baseball and football before he was a teenager, excelling at both. He threw an 84 mph fastball at Perfect Game USA, a top prep baseball showcase, as a junior.
Allison instead focused on football.
In sports, he found an identity. What Allison didn’t understand was the necessity of good grades. By the end of his freshman year, Glover says, her son’s GPA dipped to 1.76.
Eligibility required a 2.0.
“Now I’m like, OK,” Allison says, “I’m trying to play catchup to get back on the field.”
Allison missed his sophomore season, then his junior season, his grades plummeting. Glover, seeing her son “hanging on the corner,” grew more desperate. If not for Anne Caparaso, wife of Spoto High football coach Dale Caparaso, Allison’s GPA might not have resurrected in time for his senior season.
Miss Anne, as Allison calls her, volunteered after-school and summer hours to tutor. As teammates practiced, Allison studied. He sat in a private classroom, taking notes as Miss Anne walked him through online classes.
“She showed me how to study,” Allison says, “and how to learn and how to process the information. Then it was up to me to buckle down and do it.”
Glover will never forget the day her son graduated. In that moment, Glover says, she knew Allison turned his life around.
Mike Bellamy made the familiar, seven-hour drive toward western Iowa to see a sophomore receiver on Illinois’ wish list. The small junior college tucked beside Nebraska’s border was fertile recruiting ground. Bellamy expected another good trip.
He didn’t know how successful it would become. Bellamy got his commitment, but left Iowa with a bigger receiver in mind.
“We came back,” Bellamy remembers, “and we said, ‘There’s a freshman there that’s just freaky.’ Because they had three guys come out of that class, and we said, ‘There’s a guy who’s better than all three of them.’ And it was Geronimo.”
The name fits him as a receiver. A giraffe in shoulder pads, Allison is every bit the 6-foot, 4-inches listed on the Packers' roster. Coach Mike McCarthy used the word “unique” to describe Allison’s build.
Unique is what Bellamy saw when he visited Iowa Western.
Isolated in farm land, Allison buckled down on his studies. He earned his associates degree, qualifying for a Division I scholarship. Allison’s official visit to Illinois was July 19, the same date as Bellamy’s wedding anniversary.
That night, Bellamy brought his wife out to dinner with Allison.
“My wife whispered in his ear,” Bellamy remembers, “and said, ‘You might’ve ruined my anniversary, but you better not ruin my husband’s night by not coming to Illinois.’”
“That’s a lot of pressure.”
Allison spent only two years at Illinois, but quickly became the team's top receiver. He had six catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns in his first road game, a cross-country trip to Washington. One touchdown came against Huskies cornerback Marcus Peters, the NFL defensive rookie of the year last season.
His defining moment happened last October. With a six-point deficit against Nebraska, Illinois targeted Allison four straight times in the end zone. On the fourth, Allison curled inside the right pylon for a 1-yard touchdown, giving the Illini an upset victory in the final seconds.
The moment overwhelmed him, tears falling as he left the field.
“We put a lot of pressure on Geronimo all season about being the guy,” Bellamy says. “He was definitely our No. 1 receiver. There were times we’d ask him to do things that he just wasn’t capable of doing, running the reverse. Somebody 6-foot-4, 200 pounds is usually not running the reverse. We would ask him to do that because that’s what the offense called for.
“So he was getting frustrated sometimes, and at the same time he was just happy for the success he was starting to see. When that Nebraska game came, and we went to him three or four times in a row, and then he finally caught that touchdown, it solidified with him.”
The game-winning catch showed Allison at his best. He used his length to create space in the end zone. His size is a natural advantage against shorter cornerbacks.
Allison’s speed, or at least the perception of it, has been the problem. He was undrafted this spring for a reason. At the combine, Allison ran 40 yards in 4.67 seconds.
Don’t tell Allison he isn’t fast enough for the NFL.
“I mean, Jerry Rice ran a 4.7,” he shrugs.
Rice was a once-in-forever talent. For Allison, the greatest of all time sets a template.
So far in camp, he’s showing speed is another obstacle that can be overcome. On one touchdown catch from Rodgers, Allison used short-area quickness to pull away from cornerback Quinten Rollins.
It was the type of play Allison wasn’t supposed to be able to make. Not in the NFL. Bellamy knows better.
“You’d watch his college film,” Bellamy says, “and he’d beat the corner on a (deep) route by 2 or 3 yards. But there were times that he played slow, and I think a lot of the reasons were we counted on him a lot, playing 80 plays a game as our No. 1 guy. The benefit of that is he got a lot of exposure, but toward the end of the year he looked kind of sluggish at times.
“I knew people would think he was slow just because of the knock on him. We never had problems. If we needed to beat the defense deep, and we could have one receiver, I’d pick Geronimo any day.”
Allison doesn’t want his football career to end, but he has a plan for what’s next. He wants to coach, but has also considered becoming a therapist.
Either way, Allison says, his goal is to help people – like Miss Anne helped him.
He earned his bachelor’s degree from Illinois, but might not be done. The student who didn’t go to class, wouldn’t do his homework, now wants to earn his master’s degree. First, he’d like to earn his first post-college job.
Maybe it’s unrealistic to expect Allison will crack the 53-man roster.
With seven drafted receivers ahead of him, the practice squad is his likely destination. Regardless, he’s absorbing this first NFL training camp. On his way to Ray Nitschke Field, he often stops for autographs.
He signs his name over and over again: Geronimo.
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