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Sports >  WSU football

Former Washington State linebacker Jeremiah Allison climbs another mountain, fulfilling lifelong attorney dream

It represents the month and day he was born, not to mention the number that was stitched onto his jersey for four years at Washington State. Maybe, Jeremiah Allison reasoned, the No. 8 would bring the ex-Cougars linebacker some more good fortune.

Last Thursday night was a restless one for Allison, who would learn at 8 the next morning whether he scored high enough to pass the Minnesota Bar Exam – the final hurdle he’d have to clear to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming an attorney.

Allison went to sleep at 1:30 a.m. and woke up 2½ hours later – “it was like right before a bowl game or something,” he joked – before putting the refresh button on his computer through a full workout. Allison checked every 20 minutes until a letter from The Supreme Court of Minnesota’s Board of Law Examiners finally appeared in his student portal.

Then the countdown started: 8:04, 8:05, 8:06, 8:07 … finally, 8:08 a.m.

“Well, of course my number was 8. My birthday is 8/8, so I’m like maybe that’s just a sign,” Allison said Saturday in a phone interview. “I need to open it at that time, and I guess it came through, because I definitely passed the bar at 8:08.”

“Ocho” prevailed again.

With his older sister Mary and nephew King Jordan flanking him on a couch in Los Angeles, and godparents Koko and Paul Boyd along with best friend Mariah Cooks watching from a FaceTime screen in the palm of his right hand, a Twitter video captures Allison inhaling before breaking the silent tension with a thunderous roar. Both family members drive him into the cushions as if the former linebacker taught them how and Allison finally sits back up before putting both hands over his face. The video cuts off after almost 2 minutes, but Allison is reluctant to describe what happened next.

“I’m not really a crier, but I’ll plead the fifth of whether tears came out of my eye,” Allison said. “It was just surreal because I’m the first lawyer in my family, my immediate family.

“It felt like I got drafted.”

In a Twitter caption accompanying the reaction video, Allison wrote, “It wasn’t easy but I’ve always embraced the grind. Let me reintroduce myself JEREMIAH M. ALLISON ESQ. #LawyerLife.”

To grasp the accomplishment is to understand Allison’s journey. Most WSU fans are well-versed. As a young boy, circumstances were often grim for the East Los Angeles native, whose mother Lucille went to impressive lengths to provide for her family – and sometimes couldn’t, despite her best efforts.

To gain admission at Dorsey High School, Allison was required to pursue either a law or math/science magnet and he’d always been infatuated with the strategy of chess – something he says correlates to the field of law – and routinely watched movies like “A Few Good Men,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Great Debaters.”

Allison had offers from three other Power Five programs, including UCLA, but chose WSU in part because the head coach, Mike Leach, had a law degree from Pepperdine and might be a useful resource down the road. It also helped to have position coaches who kept Allison, a 4.31 GPA student in high school, accountable in the classroom when they weren’t instructing him on the field.

On one occasion, ex-WSU outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons, who’d recruited Allison and become a mentor of sorts for the linebacker, scolded his player for scoring a “C” on a midterm exam.

“He said, ‘I didn’t bring you to Washington State to get C’s. We don’t do that,’ ” Allison said. “He pulled me to the side, pulled me by my collar and kind of made sure I understood the big picture. He held me to a higher standard, but it’s one of those things, to whom more is given, more is expected.”

Last May, Allison graduated from Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Saint Paul, Minnesota. In late July, he sat down for his first bar exam, taking the test of his life in the shadow of a national pandemic and surging racial tension in the Minneapolis area following George Floyd’s murder. Allison’s mind was clouded and he wasn’t prepared for what the exam would throw at him, specifically the writing component. He needed a 260 and scored 248 – the equivalent of two missed questions.

“It was one of those things where I came up just short,” Allison said, “similar to a football game I will not mention on this call.”

(See: Colorado State 48, Washington State 45.)

It signified one of many setbacks Allison had to overcome in a long, winding journey toward a career in the justice system. He also spent a portion of his first semester at Mitchell Hamline on academic probation. Not that anyone who knows Allison would come to this conclusion, but the ex-linebacker assured “it wasn’t a matter of I didn’t work hard … I didn’t know legal writing.”

So he sought out the help of a tutor, Dena Sonbol, as well as adjunct law professor Rick Petry, and Allison watched his 2.07 GPA balloon past the 2.22 threshold that was required to clear him from the probation list.

He carried the same diligence into preparation for his second bar exam. Results from the initial test revealed Allison was fairly proficient in multiple-choice questions but needed to write stronger essays. So he put in the reps. The Minnesota Bar Exam released essay questions online, so Allison, over the course of five months, typed out answers to each one. It amounted to 120 total essays.

“What I did was, I wrote every single bar examination from 2011 all the way to 2020,” he said.

Allison felt confident after the first day of his second exam, which took place Feb. 23-24, but he encountered a hiccup on the second day.

En route to the test, one of Allison’s tires went flat. Thankfully, he’d left early enough and made it with time to spare. The ex-WSU player breezed through 200 multiple-choice questions – 25 of which are nongraded, experimental questions designed to be more difficult than the rest – before putting the two-day exam in the rearview mirror.

In describing the rigors of the exam, Allison had another football analogy up his sleeve.

“I’ll put it like this: Practice is harder than the game,” he said.

Allison has his eye on corporate law and will continue to work at Medtronic, a Minnesota-based company that’s employed him since 2019. Medtronic manufactures medical equipment, which makes Allison’s connection to the company more personal. In 2012, days before Allison’s first game at WSU, Lucille died from a coma that stemmed from a 2011 heart attack. Medtronic makes the pacemaker device that could’ve extended her life.

“It’s by far the best location I can be in right now,” Allison said. “It’s a personal peace of mind, because my mom passed away because she needed a pacemaker and Medtronic makes the pacemaker, so it’s by fate I’m in a location that saves lives.”

Allison had worked in a legal fellowship program doing mergers and acquisitions and his promotion into a legal counsel position was contingent on his bar results.

“Now that I got that over and done with, we can make the magic happen,” Allison said.

Coming out of a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles, Allison was no stranger to naysayers who scoffed at his dreams. The group of doubters has diminished significantly over the years, while the group of Allison supporters continues to multiply.

“I no longer have to prove people wrong,” he said. “I have to prove people right that believed in me.”

Allison strives to be an example in East Los Angeles community.

“I walked the same streets a lot of them walked,” he said. “I experienced the same circumstances as a lot of them and experiences, so I think the biggest part of it is being able to see what you can accomplish.

“I can say, ‘I’m a lawyer, let me tell you how to do it.’ ”

If Lucille were still alive, Jeremiah figures she’d celebrate his latest feat accordingly before encouraging her son to “look toward the next mountain to climb.”

Allison’s scaled plenty. He registered 186 tackles in four seasons as a Pac-12 linebacker and helped shape the culture for a program that made four consecutive bowl games after he left. He’s poured time into philanthropic work, building houses for Habitat for Humanity, mentoring young students at Dorsey and working with Special Olympics athletes, among other endeavors. He spent a legislative session serving as an aide to Washington senator Michael Baumgartner. In 2019, he launched the “Allison H.O.P.E. Foundation,” as an effort to keep Lucille’s legacy alive through work in local communities and classrooms.

Now, he’s a certified attorney. The next mountain awaits.

“You got past this mountain, what’s the next thing you want to accomplish in life?” Allison asked, channeling his mother’s words.

“Because we’re always on a limited amount of time, so you want to make sure you leave this world better than you found it.”

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