Last fall was not a good time for Jeffrey Allison, the Fresno State Bulldogs’ linebacker.
Back home in Georgia, two cousins, two of his best friends, died in an auto accident. His mom was ill, diagnosed with leukemia and lung disease. And he was 2,000 miles away, and not playing a lot of football.
Then, there was a matter of the 1-11 season – no fun. Coach Tim DeRuyter was fired, and Allison’s position coach and the coach who had recruited him were let go.
Allison had the conversation with coach Jeff Tedford shortly after the season, put it all out there.
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Now, Allison is the Bulldogs’ leading tackler and has been the most consistent cog in a unit that is leading the Mountain West Conference in scoring and third-down defense and is second in rushing and total defense.
There were 10 tackles and a critical forced fumble in a victory at San Diego State that has the Bulldogs in front of the West Division in the conference and earned the sophomore Mountain West defensive player of the week honors.
“It became evident pretty quick this guy is a pretty good player,” Tedford said.
So what happened between last year and now?
He mulled which schools he might want to contact. He talked to his mother every day. He talked to his brothers every day. He talked to mentors back home.
But when he sat down with Tedford, his thinking shifted.
It was, Allison said, a powerful conversation.
All those intangibles that we saw during the offseason now meshed with what he can do on the field and when you have that combination it creates a great player and that’s what he has become.
Fresno State linebackers coach Bert Watts
“Talking to him, I knew everything that he was talking about,” he said. “He was a coach that I wanted to be around. I made up my mind to stay with Coach Tedford.
“He told me that he’s a coach that is going to be here and be here for all his players. If we ever have a decision that we feel like we’re right, he’s going to stick by us 100 percent. You can’t really find coaches like that. Most coaches, if you make a decision even though you did it wrong but you feel like you’re right, most coaches they don’t want anything to do with you. But he showed that he had our backs 100 percent.”
Tedford had no idea what he had at that point. Allison had not been able to work out because of a bad shoulder and had gained about 25 pounds, reaching 274. He didn’t have a ton on film. And, due to the injury, he did not participate in spring practices.
None of that mattered.
66 tackles, 8.23 per game, this season for Jeffrey Allison, including a career-high 14 at No. 1 Alabama.
“No matter how good a player he is, how bad player he is, whatever, I had no idea,” Tedford said. “It had nothing to do with that.
“It’s about these young people and what they’re going through, their growth and development as people and the decisions that they have to make.”
Still, when Allison came back to talk a week or so later, the Bulldogs’ coach thought he would be helping to arrange travel back home.
Allison told Tedford he was staying.
“Talking to my mom and my family, they felt like it was the best decision to stay out here. They didn’t want me to miss out on any opportunities.”
Allison had to create some, first. He worked the weight off. He hit the playbook.
It became evident pretty quick this guy is a pretty good player.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford
“When we got into fall camp, ‘OK, yeah, this guy has got something,’ and when we got to the first scrimmage it was abundantly clear,” linebackers coach Bert Watts said.
“All those intangibles that we saw during the offseason now meshed with what he can do on the field and when you have that combination it creates a great player and that’s what he has become.”
The last half of his freshman season, Allison played mostly on special teams. He was in on 21 tackles, but just two over the last six games.
The first half of his sophomore season, completely different.
“It was really a pleasant surprise when he finally got to play and you could see how big and how physical he was, how he could run, and the type of player he is and the type of kid he is,” Tedford said. “He’s awesome. Obviously, we’re really happy he decided to stay. He’s a big part of what we do.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
BRIGHAM YOUNG AT FRESNO STATE
- Saturday: 7:45 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
- Records: Bulldogs 5-3, Cougars 2-7
- TV/radio: ESPN2/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: BYU snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 41-20 victory on Saturday over a San Jose State team that is now 1-8 and has lost its road games by an average of 30.8 points. … The Cougars have struggled on offense all season and went into that game against the Spartans averaging just 12.1 points per game, 128th in the nation. The 41 points were a season-high and more than they had in their past three games combined – they scored 7, 10 and 17 points in losses to Boise State, at Mississippi State and at East Carolina. … BYU has struggled in particular trying to rush the football. It averaged more than 200 yards a game on the ground last season, but even after churning out 266 yards against the Spartans is averaging only 109.2 yards per game, 120th in the nation. That was nothing out of the ordinary for Spartans’ opponents. San Jose State had allowed 278.3 rushing yards per game, ranking 128th in the nation. It also had allowed 26 rushing touchdowns, ranking 129th.