It’s fitting that Illinois receiver Gernoimo Allison and Nevada running back Don Jackson will be chasing their NFL dreams together as undrafted rookies with the Green Bay Packers.
Both came from difficult backgrounds. Both spent more time getting in trouble than learning in the classroom.
Both dug their ways out of deep, dark holes — perhaps saving more than their athletic careers in the process. “Where I live at, there’s a lot of gangs around,” Allison said. “I was a troublemaker.”
Jackson, from Sacramento, and Allison, from Tampa, didn’t know each other when they arrived at Iowa Western Community College. In 2012, they were major reasons why the Reivers won the junior college national championship.
“That’s my lifetime friend,” Allison said on Monday. “We talked when we both found out we were going to Green Bay. We are both excited for the opportunity to go out there and earn a spot with the Packers. We’re excited to get to work.”
Before there was Packers coach Mike McCarthy, there was Spoto High School coach Dale Caparaso and his wife, Anne. Allison’s grades were so bad that he was ineligible to play as a sophomore and junior. Knowing time was running out, Allison attacked his schoolwork with new-found focus. Thanks to a tutoring program established by “Miss Anne,” as Allison calls her, he got himself eligible for his senior year of high school and earned his diploma.
“That’s my second family,” Allison said. “I would not be here if it wasn’t for them. They really helped me mature and helped me get through a lot of situations that got me to this point. I love them to death.”
From Spoto, it was onto Iowa Western, where Allison starred on the football field as well as in the classroom, earning a B average and his associates degree in just three semesters. From there, it was onto Illinois, where he caught 41 passes for 598 yards and five touchdowns as a junior and 65 passes for 882 yards and three touchdowns as a senior. During a four-game stretch vs. Middle Tennessee, Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin, Allison caught 34 passes for 466 yards and two touchdowns, catching at least eight passes for 91 yards in each of those games. He might have done even better with stronger play at quarterback. Of our top 40 receiver prospects, Allison had the lowest catch rate at just 49.2 percent.
Allison joins a loaded receiver corps, which includes fifth-round pick Trevor Davis of Cal. Allison has something the others lack, though: height. At the Scouting Combine, he measured in at 6-foot-3 1/4. The 196-pounder ran his 40 in 4.67 seconds with a 33-inch vertical. At pro day, he was up to 202 pounds and cut his 40 to 4.55.
Allison said he was disappointed that he wasn’t drafted. He hadn’t been in contact much with Green Bay leading up to the draft but chose the Packers, in part, because he was aware of their strong history with undrafted free agents. Plus, the quarterback’s not bad.
“Why not catch passes from Aaron Rodgers?”
Allison said he shed some “tears of joy” upon agreeing to a contract with the Packers. Playing in the NFL has been a lifelong goal, a goal he made possible by overcoming long odds through hard work.
“It was always a childhood dream but I never knew how it was going to shake out,” he said. “I never knew how my journey was going to lay out. I’m thankful for it and I’m just going to embrace it.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.