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Former WSU linebacker Jeremiah Allison seamlessly walks in two disparate worlds

JEREMIAH ALLISON walks the marbled corridors of the state capital like a veteran. He mixes easily with elected officials, fellow staffers and visiting constituents. His glistening 2015 Sun Bowl ring tends to be a source of bright-eyed inquiry.

In many ways, the former Washington State linebacker has traveled from one end of the country to the other. In Olympia, he works in a legislature whose members are 90 percent white and predominately in their 50s. Back home in Los Angeles, he graduated from a high school – Dorsey – whose student body is 90 percent non-white.

Allison’s ability to seamlessly walk in the two worlds speaks to a demeanor, attitude and outlook that his boss, state Sen. Mike Baumgartner of Spokane, believes is tailor made for public service and politics. “The way he interacts with people, there’s a natural connection,” he said. “It’s easy to see he cares about people. I think it was about four years ago when Elson (Floyd) and (Mike) Leach first told me that Jeremiah might have a future in politics. They weren’t wrong.”

Just two weeks into his stint as a legislative aide, Allison used his past to shape the future – or, more precisely, to possibly help shape the future. He worked with Baumgartner and Sen. Rebecca Saldana of Seattle to fine tune the language in the bipartisan “Ban the Box” bill to prohibit employers from requiring disclosure of past arrests or convictions on job applications.

More than 70 million Americans have a criminal record, and studies show those who have been incarcerated are far less likely to re-offend if they have steady employment. Yet once the criminal record box is checked on a job application, they often are out of the running for employment. According to the Sentencing Project, Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men, and Hispanic men are more than twice as likely to be incarcerated as non-Hispanic white men. The bill includes various exclusions but the bottom line on it is to give people a fair chance at making an impression before they disclose their record.

“Jeremiah grew up in south-central Los Angeles. He brings a perspective to this issue that your average legislator in the state of Washington just doesn’t possess,” Baumgartner told CF.C. “He knows people back home whose hopes for getting on the right path are affected by things like the box on employment applications."

HOME IN LOS ANGELES AT his Godmother’s apartment, a day before heading to San Diego to see his Cougars play Minnesota in the Holiday Bowl, Allison is relaxed as he talks about WSU, Cougar football and the path he is on. Amid the din of buddies in the living room playing 2K Basketball, Allison entertains with tales ranging from the recruiting trail to Klay Thompson hanging out at The Coug.

Koko Boyd, his Godmother, is personable and welcoming -- and there is no doubt she views Jeremiah as her own. The loving “mom vibe” is tangible, right down to the Christmas-themed place mats on the table.

A year ago, Allison sat here with his eyes on a shot in the NFL – a lifelong dream chronicled in powerful fashion last year by the NFL Networks documentary “Undrafted.” Today, that quest is firmly in the rear-view mirror. Allison is so focused on his new future that he turned down, without a second thought, an offer to sign with Edmonton of the Canadian Football League when an NFL tryout didn’t materialize. The longer-term goal – law school – became front and center.

In between selling cars with Mkristo Bruce at Stadium Nissan, he took the LSAT twice and now awaits word back from the handful of West Coast law schools where he has applied.

Allison always has been about moving forward – past the gangs that his mother, Lucille, so worried could derail her young son’s academic excellence; past the coma that rendered her speechless a month before he decided where to go to college; and past her death one week before he played his first game in a WSU uniform, at BYU back in August of 2012.

Allison beams when reflecting on his four years in Pullman. “I got the chance to meet the first family, President Floyd and Mrs. Floyd. They were just a blessing,” he said.

Allison and the Floyds were so close, in fact, that one of the iconic moments of the Mike Leach Era at Washington State came on Senior Night 2015, when Carmento Floyd, standing in for Lucille, walked Allison out of the tunnel to a standing ovation. Two lives connected in tragedy.

“They became my family,” says Allison, who started 22 straight games at Washington State over his last two seasons and earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in 2014.

“The connections you make at Washington State -- a lot of people don’t understand (the depth),” he said. “It’s a place where you can grow as a person and a player.”

HIS PRE-LAW TRACK consisted of a double-major in political science and criminal justice. To graduate in four years, a typical day required four hours of studying on top of classes, the various football-related activities and community service, he said.

“Some people on campus, they think that we have it easy, that student-athletes have it easy. They think that we get all this money and we get all this other stuff, but that’s not the case. We have to wake up at 5, 4 o’clock in the morning and run laps and do conditioning, we have to eat (to the point) it’s a job for us,” he said, marveling at the number of calories required just to maintain weight.

He recalls one of the biggest adjustments that confronted him when he arrived at WSU the summer of his freshman year. Summer time in Pullman is slow – so slow that he couldn’t get to sleep.

“I thought it was too quiet … in the summer when everyone is gone, you can hear the crickets.

“I’m going to sleep I have to hear noise. Going to sleep here (in Los Angeles) you’re going to hear the helicopters, the police sirens, you hear something. In Pullman, I didn’t hear anything. So I remember after my first summer training, when we had that week off, I had a friend take me to Spokane.”

His time in Pullman set the table for his legislative work in Olympia, and law school down the road, he said.

“It taught me a lot of things other than just football. It taught me patience, it taught me networking, how to be a better me, a good person, it was just a blessing -- that’s all I can say to that."

ALLISON IN HIS OWN WORDS:

On missing football:

“Coach (Dennis) Simmons told me once, ‘Jeremiah, you’re not going to miss the waking up at 6 in the morning, you’re not going to miss the head banging. What you’re going to miss is calling yourself a football player and the brotherhood in the locker room,’ and when he put all that into perspective, I mean, he’s right.”

On starting at linebacker for the first time:

“When I got my first start at No. 2 Oregon (in 2014), Coach Leach that week was like, ‘We’re going to give a starting spot to whoever’s hitting hard in practice.’ Man I was a mad man.”

On being an athlete in Pullman:

“When Klay Thompson came back (to campus), he didn’t need a security guard or things like that, you know what I’m saying? He’s the NBA champion and he didn’t need security guards or an entourage, like he’s in The Coug having fun, like a regular person!”

On elevating in Pullman:

“If you were training a prize fighter, where are you going to take them to train? Are you going to take them to the city to train, with a lot of distractions? Or are you going to take them to the woods, where nobody’s around, no distractions, just work on your game.”

On why Luke Falk this year and Gabe Marks last year didn’t leave early for the NFL:

“That staff, they’re so prosperous now because they have that ‘it’ factor. One thing you would never hear about Washington State is that there’s no family feel at Washington State. That’s why Luke Falk’s staying that extra year, that’s why players are staying that extra year, that’s why Gabe stayed – the family feel, like you’re never going to get that back.”

On being recruited by Mike Leach:

“Coach Leach came to my high school, Dorsey, and sat in the Dorsey office and just kicked his feet up like he knew me for 20 years,” Allison said, doing his best Leach impression. “‘So uuhhh, Jeremiah, what do you think about this?’”

On the WSU, UCLA, Arizona recruiting trifecta:

“Everybody thought I was going to UCLA … I knew nothing about Washington State before my official visit. Coach Joe (Salave’a) gave me my third offer, to Arizona, and then I saw him at WSU when I came up in January and I was like ‘You just gave me an offer to Arizona -- you’re trying to leave me!’”

On the importance of former Cougar players helping lead:

“Alumni have a lot to do with (instilling the sense of commitment and dedication in new players). We needed more alumni to come back, to talk to us and show us the way,” he said, noting that Marcus Trufant and Jason Gesser were two Cougars who helped bridge the chasm between past and present and encourage the program’s turnaround.

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Jeremiah Allison at his Godmother's home on the eve of the Holiday Bowl:

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