Cal family supported Biaggio Ali-Walsh during the hardest time of his life

Biaggio Ali-Walsh, Cal's newest running back commit, is more than just Muhammad Ali's grandson. He's a state player of the year, a model, a bit of a comedian and now, friends with his idol, Marshawn Lynch.

Biaggio Ali-Walsh sat in California head coach Sonny Dykes's office, silent. Flanked by his mother and father, he listed as the Bears skipper told him how much they wanted to bring him on board. Then, he stopped. The room fell silent. Ali-Walsh, the grandson of Muhammad Ali, saw his opening to land a major blow to end his official visit.

“I was looking at him, thinking, ‘He doesn’t know that I’m about to commit in two seconds,'" Ali-Walsh said. 

Then, he opened his mouth.

"Well," he said, "I'm going to commit."

Smiles. Congratulations. Sighs of relief.

“I actually planned that," Ali-Walsh said from his home in Las Vegas on Sunday night. "No one else knows that, either."


When Ali-Walsh scored his offer from the Bears in April, it was at the start of a rough stretch. That month, his uncle died. The next month, his dog died, right in front of his house. Then, on June 3, his grandfather -- his Poppy -- passed away, sending shockwaves through the sports world. That night, he got a text message from his idol, Marshawn Lynch. 'How you holding up?' Lynch asked.

“It meant a lot, especially Marshawn, because I look up to that guy," said Ali-Walsh. "Letting me know that he’s there for me, it was relieving, especially at a time like that.”

Lynch would be there for Ali-Walsh, if he needed him. He wanted the young running back to know that, in no uncertain terms.

"I just felt appreciated, you know?" Ali-Walsh said.

Ali-Walsh and Lynch began their relationship shortly after he got his offer from Cal. Ever since the Beast Quake in 2011 literally sent ripples through the very ground of the Northwest, Ali-Walsh has been a Beast Mode disciple. His grandmother just happened to know someone who worked for Lynch. She relayed how big of a fan he was of the former Seattle Seahawks running back.

"Marshawn was like, ‘What? Tell him to give me a call,'" Ali-Walsh said. “One day, I called him, and me and Marshawn were talking on the phone for a half hour. He was at dinner, and I said, ‘No, no, no, I don’t want to interrupt your dinner,’ but he actually took the time out of his family dinner to talk to me, which he really didn’t have to do.”

The two became fast friends. In fact, before he embarked on his official visit this weekend to Berkeley, he Facetimed Lynch to let him know. Lynch couldn't be there, he said. He was headed to Africa, and then on to Australia, to be with the Bears during their historic trip to Sydney.

For all his life, Ali-Walsh has been in the spotlight. It's what comes with being a part of the Ali bloodline. Lynch made Ali-Walsh feel like he -- Biaggio, regardless of his last name -- mattered. It struck a chord.


Ali-Walsh's commitment to Cal on Sunday became a national story. Every article mentioned his famous forbearer. So, when he signed with Wilhelmina Models in early July, the ledes were the same: 'Muhammad Ali's grandson signs with modeling agency.' For Ali-Walsh, that particular wrinkle in his story came out of the blue. When he got an Instagram direct message from Jorge Urena, his first thought was, "OK, this is one of these cheap guys at the mall, who DMs people on Instagram to sign as a model."

So, Ali-Walsh ignored the message for three weeks. 

"I kept looking at this DM, so, I figured, I’ll look it up," Ali-Walsh said. "I looked up Wilhelmina and I was like, ‘Woah!’ I didn’t know this agency was top-three biggest in the world.”

Their client list includes Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas. 

"I'm like, 'Woah! This is nuts,'" Ali-Walsh said.

He went to his parents. "I have to do this," he said.

His grandfather did have a propensity to punctuate his verbal jabs with, "I'm pretty!" so why not carry on the legacy?

In mid-April, Ali-Walsh got back in touch with Urena. Then, Ali's health took a turn for the worse, so he held off.

"When we got back from Louisville, from the memorial, I was like, 'OK, we need some positive things going in our lives,'" Ali-Walsh said. "We lost way too much. We wanted some positive things going on in our life. So, my mom called them up, and said, 'We're ready to move on now.'" When the deal was announced, TMZ picked up the story. So did news outlets the world over. 

"That blew up like crazy," Ali-Walsh said. "I did not expect that. I had a lot of clients contacting. My agent called me and said, 'Bro, you blew up my email.'"

Before Ali-Walsh could book any gigs, though, he had to make sure the deal would pass muster with the NCAA. He turned to Ron DiNicola, Ali's old entertainment attorney, and family friend.

"He went to the same people that worked on Snoop & Son, the show that was on ESPN," Ali-Walsh said. "He went to those people, and he worked out a lot of things with the NCAA, the regulations and stuff. Basically, you can't be a professional model when you're in college. You've got to sign before you enter college. That's the only way you can pursue it. I'm lucky that I signed before I got to college, because I want to be able to do it, while I'm in college. They're really strict.

"That's looking good right now, but I don't want it to distract from football. I'm more focused on the season than anything right now."


The focus that Ali-Walsh has on the gridiron led him to rushing for 2,451 yards and 33 touchdowns as a junior, en route to a state title and the Gatorade State Player of the Year award. But, the "Little Weirdo," as his mother calls him, knows how to lighten the mood on the field. "I'm just a little weird, so I have to agree with it," laughed Ali-Walsh, who described his sense of humor as a mix of Seth McFarlane (creator of his favorite show, Family Guy) and Jim Carrey. "I have a really weird -- really bizarre sense of humor. I'm not that mischievous. Just, when I talk, I say a lot of weird things. People look at me and say, 'I don't know what you just said.'"

Last season, in the midst of a 30-16 win over Don Bosco Prep, Ali-Walsh lined up next to Ohio State quarterback commit Tate Martell, and let him in on a little secret.

"I looked at Tate, and I said, 'Hey, I just farted so bad right now,' and he just looked at me," Ali-Walsh said. "He kind of zoned out for a second. I didn't even mean to do that. I just wanted to tell him, straight up, 'If you smell something right now, that's me. If you run and fall down, that's my fault.'"

Thankfully, it didn't cause an errant snap or a false start.

"Thank God it didn't, because that's on me," Ali-Walsh said. "He just tried his best to just ignore me, like, 'That's just him being him.'"


Saturday was a busy day for the Little Weirdo. At 9 a.m., he had a scrimmage with his Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman team, that ran until noon. Then, he hopped on a 1:45 p.m. flight to Berkeley. He missed the Bears' scrimmage, but he was just in time to catch a film session.

"I sat in with the position coach (Garret Chachere) and we were watching their film from the scrimmage they just had. It was crazy," said Ali-Walsh. "Their players are completely different from ours. It’s cool to learn from that.”

Watching the film, which showed the Bears running through enormous holes opened by the veteran offensive line, Ali-Walsh was amazed by Tre Watson and Khalfani Muhammad, as Cal running backs tallied 245 yards on the ground, and three touchdowns., he spent some time with his official visit hosts.

It was fitting for the grandson of the Louisville Lip that the Bears paired him with some of the best talkers on the team as his official visit hosts: Vic Enwere, Chase Forrest, Ray Hudson and Darius Allensworth. He met a trio of commits, in Taariq JohnsonGabe Cherry and Jeremiah Hawkins.

He saw where Berkeley scientists split the atom. He watched a video about the history of the campus.

“They were showing us the building where they split the atom, they were showing us the views – you could see Alcatraz from over there – and a whole bunch of buildings – the architecture buildings, the science buildings -- it was too much to mention," Ali-Walsh said. “I saw more than what I needed to see [on the visit]."

His parents were likewise taken.

“They loved it just as much as I did, to be honest," he said. "We were very, very impressed. There were a lot of things I learned about Cal that I didn’t even know.”

Ali-Walsh, of course, will be back a year from now, readying for his first season in blue and gold, but he wants to return sooner.

"I definitely want to come back for a game," he said.

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