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June 11, 2014

A Family Tradition



After Missouri's one-day recruiting camp finally ended on Tuesday, Jack Allison climbed the wall behind the north endzone for a photo opportunity in front of the "Rock-M."

A 2016 quarterback from Palmetto, Fla., Allison already has offers from Alabama, Tennessee, Miami and Central Florida. Missouri also offered about three weeks ago. This photo session, however, wasn't just a memento for one of his college visits, a figure that will continue to grow as his national profile keeps rising.

Allison's family has deep ties to the University of Missouri. You can say they helped build the athletic program in Columbia, too.

It wouldn't be hyperbole.



Allison's father, Sean Allison, was born in Springfield. He attended Kickapoo High School and swam at Drury University in Springfield. His family runs deep with Missouri fans. His uncle, Butch Allison, was a letter winner for the Tigers in football. His older brother, Kelly Allison, worked as a graduate assistant for Missouri under Woody Widenhofer, and his younger brother, Chris, played for one year with the Tigers in the late 80s.

But Sean Allison's grandfather -- his mother's dad, Craig Kelly -- helped build the Hearnes Center.

"He was the superintendent in charge of construction," Sean Allison said. "When that building was getting constructed, we would come up here as little kids. We were the boss's grandkids."

The lore goes even deeper than that.

"In fact, my brother Kelly was the first one to shoot a basketball at Hearnes and had Norm Stewart come out," Allison said. "Norm and my brother Kelly -- I don't know, he was probably in fourth grade, maybe -- shot the first basket there and Norm autographed it and had a little ceremony.

"It wasn't even finished yet. It was like the day after they hung the goals."

With Jack now a major Division-I recruit, Tuesday's camp was a family reunion of sorts for his extended family. His grandpa made the trip from St. Louis, and his grandmother and great-aunt drove in from Springfield to watch Jack work out in front of Missouri's coaches, on the same field where his great-aunt, Jo-Ellen Kelly, has season tickets.

"She never misses a game," Sean Allison said, pointing to the south endzone where her tickets are located.

The family's campus tour on Tuesday, led by assistants on the football team, didn't really even need a guide. Jack's grandmother graduated from Missouri in the late 1950s ("'58 or '59, I think," Sean guessed.) She became the de-facto welcoming committee, pointing out where she took archery and golf classes and talking about how the columns came to be.

"She was on the bucket brigade with the big fire, with the columns," Sean deadpanned, before laughing. "No. She's not that old. She's talked about the fires and the columns all my life. It was like she must have been there."

"Big-time. Big-time fans," he added. "He's got a lot of pressure to come to MU. He's got a lot of pressure on him today. All these people come to watch him. It's a lot of fun."

"She's the biggest Mizzou fan, I think, in America," Jack said about his grandmother.

While Jack threw passes on Faurot Field, his family sat and watched. It was a time to reminisce about an upbringing that revolved around the Tigers. Sean remembered watching yearly games against Nebraska with his parents -- "The whole world stopped for that 60 minutes of playing time until the question was resolved. He also remembers watching his uncle, Butch, play in his final college football game against Florida in the 1966 Sugar Bowl.

"Grandpa had just gotten a color TV and we were able to watch," Sean Allison said. "New Year's Day. Steve Spurrier, the Heisman-winner.

"In fact, I ran into Spurrier, down in Florida, for recruiting or something, and he was taking questions. I got in line and was going to ask him what the deal was with that bowl, why he couldn't close that one out, but they cut out questions and answers right before I made a fool of myself."

Those past ties to Missouri run deep. Sean tries to downplay those connections a little, to allow Jack to fully evaluate every school individually. But with so many family members in attendance for a one-day camp, Jack is aware.

"It's a great program," Jack Allison said. "I'm considering coming here. It's one of the top schools on my list. I want to come out here and experience the environment, meet the coaches first-hand.

"To come here and be close to my family and have the tradition would be great, but at the end of the day, you just have to realize what's best for you and where you're going to fit in best, so I just have to evaluate every school the same, as I do every school, and pick out the best school for me."

The recruiting momentum is in full swing and has already added considerable stress to Jack's life. Sean remembers, soon after the offers started coming in, his son talking to him in a moment of reflection.

"Dad, I don't know what all this means," Jack said.

His father's advice was simple:

"You're not going to. You won't know what this process means until you're 30. So just take everything in stride and enjoy it."

On Tuesday, Allison did just that. He didn't have to throw in front of Missouri's staff, not with an offer already. In fact, Tuesday's camp was one of the few he's been to. The only other camp he attended this summer was one at Miami, and he's not sure if he'll do any more camps or take more visits in the next two months. More offers will come in -- and he may already have more than are reported. The family doesn't view an offer as "real" until they talk to the college coach, so offers reported to his high school coach aren't being talked about.

Sixty-two schools came to Palmetto during a three-week stretch around his high school team's spring practice.

Allison saw his family's love of Missouri in a unique setting on Tuesday. But now, those connections go to the backburner as the recruiting game continues. His father, though, remains vividly aware of that history and tradition. With his son a national recruit, there's a chance his path will cross with Steve Spurrier once again.

Will the subject of Spurrier's failed comeback in that Sugar Bowl come up?

"If I see him again, absolutely," Sean Allison said. "I'm going to ask him about that."


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