The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Sports - Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada

had to keep smil­ing. He saw it through. He un­der­stood that God took him to a bet­ter spot and He is watch­ing over him, and he un­der­stands what he had to do.”

For Al­li­son that’s pur­su­ing the dream, foot­ball on Fri­day nights grad­u­at­ing to Sat­ur­day af­ter­noons and if all goes ex­cep­tion­ally well on to Sun­days; to keep push­ing, all while deal­ing with a lot of real life.

A year ago, Al­li­son had changed his uni­form to No. 9 in honor of his cousins, Jar­rett and Jaylen Mum­ford, who were killed in an auto ac­ci­dent in 2016 dur­ing his fresh­man year. Jar­rett Mum­ford, a fresh­man at Alabama State, had ac­cord­ing to news re­ports re­turned home and to his high school just out­side of At­lanta to ful­fill a Home­com­ing tra­di­tion as the out­go­ing Mr. Ban­neker High, pass­ing the honor on to his suc­ces­sor.

It was af­ter that cer­e­mony the car they and a third pas­sen­ger were trav­el­ing in col­lided with an­other ve­hi­cle.

This year, his younger brother, Jae­lan White.

“It’s life,” Al­li­son said. “You have to live it day by day. I try to stay fo­cused and re­mem­ber that I’m do­ing this for a pur­pose and I can’t just let that bring me down.

“I have to make sure that the peo­ple that pass away, I have to make them happy and keep pur­su­ing my dream. Ev­ery­body that I know that I’ve lost, they wanted me to be great. They wanted me to do this. They wanted it just like I want it. That just gives me more mo­ti­va­tion to know that I have to com­plete that mis­sion.”

Al­li­son is on that track, and that dream is real.

Wear­ing a No. 9 that was re­tired in honor of Kevin Sweeney af­ter re­ceiv­ing per­mis­sion from the for­mer Bull­dogs quar­ter­back, Al­li­son had one of the best sea­sons by a linebacker in Fresno State his­tory.

He racked up 126 to­tal tack­les in­clud­ing 79 solo, twice was the Moun­tain West de­fen­sive player of the week and was se­lected first-team all-con­fer­ence as the Bull­dogs com­pleted one of the big­gest turn­arounds ever in col­lege foot­ball.

Ken­wick Thomp­son, the Bull­dogs’ lineback­ers coach, is new to the staff and didn’t get a chance to watch Al­li­son dur­ing spring prac­tices as he re­habbed a shoul­der in­jury.

But fall camp has not been a sur­prise at all.

“He is what you see on tape,” Thomp­son said. “He’s a phys­i­cal player, plays fast. The thing that sur­prises you is that for a guy his size is how he moves and how he changes di­rec­tion. That part, see­ing that part in per­son, that’s im­pres­sive.

“The other part, I hadn’t seen in per­son, but I ex­pected it, was his lead­er­ship abil­ity and abil­ity to get guys to play with him and to com­mu­ni­cate. I was ex­cited to get an op­por­tu­nity to see that and pleased to this point where he has been, but at the same time he has an ex­treme work ethic. He works like a guy that’s still try­ing to get there.” The sup­port, too, is real. O’Neal and Al­li­son, a se­nior run­ning back and ju­nior linebacker, are that close.

“That’s my brother,” Al­li­son said. “His mother is my mother, my mother is his . ... That’s like my blood brother. He knows my whole fam­ily.”

A day later and a dif­fer­ent dis­cus­sion, it’s O’Neal.

“It’s like a brother that my mom didn’t have,” the Bullard High grad said. “We’re like a big fam­ily. ... When I saw him shed a tear, it made me shed one be­cause I un­der­stand.”

Coach Jeff Ted­ford, the Bull­dogs’ as­sis­tant coaches and staff all check in with him. Mar­cus McMaryion. Tank Kelly. Matt Boateng. KeeSean John­son. The Bull­dogs, of­fense, de­fense, spe­cial teams, no one ever is too far away.

“All of the guys, they came to me, prayed with me,” Al­li­son said.

They are, McMaryion said, a tight group: “They un­der­stand that sup­port is there with them all the time, dur­ing the good times, dur­ing the bad times. That’s part of what we’re sup­posed to do. They should learn more than foot­ball from the game of foot­ball.

“We try to make a point of that. Coach Ted­ford makes that a big part of who we are. Un­for­tu­nately, when things like that hap­pen, it gets put into ac­tion. You can never to­tally pre­pare for some­thing like that, but you just hope that some of the things that he has learned through this game help him get through it.”

McMaryion lauded Al­li­son for the way he has han­dled it all, on and off the foot­ball field.

“I re­minded the guys the other day, too, there are a lot of peo­ple go­ing through stuff out­side of foot­ball and we’re for­tu­nate enough to be put here play­ing a game and en­joy­ing our time and hav­ing fun,” he said.

“But there def­i­nitely are peo­ple and Jeff is one of them that’s deal­ing with some stuff out­side and I com­mend him for be­ing able to han­dle his busi­ness on the field and not let it af­fect him when he’s out here.”

When Al­li­son is on the field this fall Jaevon will be there as well, just as Jar­rett and Jaylen Mum­ford were last sea­son and will be again this sea­son.

“My lit­tle brother, I just want to do my best for him,” Al­li­son said. “He looked up to me. He al­ways wanted the best for me, I wanted the best for him.

“Things were short for him, but I just want to make sure I do my best. I don’t think I’m go­ing to have a (jersey) num­ber or some­thing like that for him, I just want to give him my all and let him know that I love him.”

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