Jeffrey Allison did everything he could to block it all out.
The size and brute of the Alabama offensive lineman who got in his facemask. The throbbing pain in his injured hand. The growing deficit on the Bryant-Denny Stadium scoreboard.
The Fresno State sophomore linebacker had to forget all of that, because with Hurricane Irma churning at the speed of devastation toward his birthplace of Miami, his family needed him to help them forget about home for a few distracted hours Saturday.
“I wasn’t thinking about the hurricane at all,” Allison said, his career-high 14 tackles shining as a hopeful beacon in Fresno State’s 41-10 loss to the top-ranked Crimson Tide.
“I just wanted to make my family proud, and give it my all out there for them.”
His mom and dad were in the stands, making the drive west from Atlanta. His aunts and uncles and a bunch of cousins were there, too, 34 relatives in all wearing red No. 09 jerseys with the family surname on the back.
Most of them now live in Georgia. Some of them remain in the Miami area, where their neighbors spent the weekend trying to evacuate before Irma’s eye bore down on their front porches.
That list of evacuees included Ethel Townsend, the proudest grandma you’d ever meet in a crimson crowd of 101,000 fans.
“We haven’t heard anything,” Townsend said of her home in Miami. “Pray, pray for us.”
Moments like this always put football, and sports, in their proper place. So what if the Bulldogs got hung with their first loss of the season?
Allison had the game of his life, and his family was safe and sound to see it. If not for this game, Townsend and others would have been running north from the storm.
When the game ended, Townsend didn’t ask for an update on Irma’s path. She just wanted to know when her grandson was coming out to say hello after the game, while others asked if his hand was hurt too bad.
Think that Jeffrey Allison was scared? He used to play football outside with his cousins when storms headed toward Miami as a child, that’s how weathered they are to the hurricane-force weather.
“It means so much to be here and watch him play,” she said. “To see him doing what he loves to do, for him to know what he wants to do with his life and do it so well … he has grown to so full of discipline, so full of wisdom.
“I am so glad we are here.”
Allison was so glad they all came. He ignored news reports of the hurricane all week, doing his best to focus on the task at hand because, in terms of football, Fresno State had its own problems.
Besides, this kid has grown up with hurricane sirens sounding in the distance. He lived through Hurricane Katrina when it hit South Dade in 2005 and Hurricane Wilma later that year.
Think he was scared? He used to play football outside with his cousins when storms headed toward Miami as a child, that’s how weathered they are to the hurricane-force weather.
This family had each other. As the breeze picked up Saturday evening in Tuscaloosa afternoon, hundreds of miles from Florida, the extended Allison family knew there was nothing Hurricane Irma could do to spoil their weekend spent together cheering on No. 09.
“We’ve been through it before,” Allison said. “It’s just a lot of wind. They’ll be OK.”
FRESNO STATE AT NO. 6 WASHINGTON
- Saturday: 6:30 p.m. in Seattle
- Records: Bulldogs 1-1, Huskies 2-0
- TV/radio: Pac-12 Network/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: After the Bulldogs lost 41-10 at No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, the Huskies routed FCS school Montana 63-7 in their home opener. Washington rose one spot, to No. 6, in this week’s Top 25 poll of The Associated Press.