Muhammad Ali's Grandson, a Cal Recruit, Channeling 'The Greatest' with Football

Damon Sayles@@DamonSaylesNational Recruiting AnalystJanuary 26, 2017

Cal running back commit Biaggio Ali Walsh, here with his mother, Rasheda, is the grandson of boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Rather than pursue a career in boxing, Ali Walsh is choosing to honor his grandfather with his play on the football field.
Cal running back commit Biaggio Ali Walsh, here with his mother, Rasheda, is the grandson of boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Rather than pursue a career in boxing, Ali Walsh is choosing to honor his grandfather with his play on the football field.Credit: Damon Sayles/Bleacher Report

In one of the biggest games and best finishes of the 2016 high school football season, Cal running back commit Biaggio Ali Walsh made a champion's play for a championship team.

Playing against Florida power St. Thomas Aquinas on Sept. 30, Ali Walsh and Las Vegas football powerhouse Bishop Gorman trailed, 24-23, in triple overtime. With a then-44-game winning streak on the line and back-to-back national championships serving as motivation, Ali Walsh took a pitch to the left and reached the end zone, resulting in a game-winning two-point conversion.

The play, to some, may have been par for the course for someone who had arguably the best teacher in representing and expounding greatness—and speaking it into existence—in his grandfather.

Why? Because Ali Walsh said so. And because his grandfather—the late, great Muhammad Ali—so often cosigned before he died June 3 at the age of 74. He would have turned 75 on Jan. 17.

As the 2015-16 Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year and someone who didn't lose a high school football game at Bishop Gorman, Ali Walsh is the definition of an Ali. He's athletic. He's charismatic. He's likable. He's charming.

He also wants to be as successful in football as his illustrious grandfather was in the boxing ring.

"Just being his grandson, that was already my goal before his passing: to be great and be destined to be great because of him," Ali Walsh said. "After his passing, it had me more influenced and twice as inspired to be great, especially seeing all the documentaries on him and everything.

"He always told me to be loving and to stay humble. But he also wanted me to be great. I'm very inspired to keep his legacy going."

Ali Walsh has accomplished a lot on the football field, including helping Bishop Gorman win three consecutive national championships, per USA Today, and solidifying his college future by verbally committing to Cal.

From all appearances, he is prepared for stardom. Off the field, he's dabbled in the world of modeling. On the field, he's a threat to score a touchdown every time he touches the ball.

Ali Walsh, who said he channels his grandfather's aura with everything he does, is ready for the upcoming challenges.

"I looked up to him and how he worked, not just in the ring but outside with all the love he showed people and the footprint he left on Earth," Ali Walsh said. "The Ali in me means the world to me, and I won't let him down."


Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee

The son of Bob Walsh and Rasheda Ali Walsh, Biaggio Ali Walsh is a 5'11", 187-pound running back who possesses the speed of a sprinter and the power of a fullback. He hits holes quickly, and when he's in the open field, he's shown himself difficult to run down.

"I've never seen anyone catch him from behind," said Craig Canfield, the offensive coordinator at Bishop Gorman. "Maybe there might have been somebody who has an angle, but never anyone from behind."

"You give him some size of a hole, and he'll fit right through there," added junior offensive lineman Jacob Isaia. "Once he's broken through the second level, he's gone. I have never seen anyone as fast as Biaggio is."

Despite an ankle injury that sidelined him for the first part of the season, he rushed for 1,462 yards and 22 touchdowns. Ranked by as top-50 running back nationally among a talented group in the 2017 class, Ali Walsh averaged 10.7 yards per carry and accounted for triple-digit rushing yards in nine games, according to MaxPreps.

Helping fuel that production is an acceptance that with his name comes expectations, as well as a responsibility to handle those burdens magnanimously.

"Being an Ali, he gets it," said Rasheda, the second-oldest of Ali's nine children and the elder identical twin to Jamillah Ali Joyce by two-and-a-half minutes. "At a young age, we taught him that growing up an Ali will have pressures normal young kids won't have.

"We taught him to carry the Ali name with pride and to use Daddy as an example. When you see what he stood for—not just here, but all over the globe—you have to wear that badge of honor, because people are going to expect that from you."

Ali Walsh admitted he was interested in boxing while growing up, but he had a passion for football. The boxing gene went to his younger brother, Nico, who is a 16-year-old junior at Bishop Gorman. According to his older brother, Nico owns a 4-2 amateur boxing record.

Instead, Biaggio parlayed his skills into a Pac-12 scholarship with Cal. He committed to the Golden Bears in August over offers from Arizona, Louisville, Colorado, UNLV and other programs.

"Before I even went on a visit, I had a lot of people telling me about Cal," Ali Walsh said. "It seemed nice, and the people were down-to-earth and very laid-back. While we were there on my official visit, they showed me things that blew my mind. My tourist talked about this was where they discovered the splitting of an atom. I was like, 'this place is crazy.'"

And then, there's football. Ali Walsh, the Golden Bears' lone running back pledge, said he was a fan of the high-octane offense, which averaged 37.1 points and 513.2 yards per game during the 2016 season

Bishop Gorman head coach Kenny Sanchez expects Ali Walsh to fit in Cal's offense quickly. He said Ali Walsh has been groomed for next-level competition for quite some time, and the transition from high school to college won't be as difficult for him as it may be for other high school seniors.

Just how good is Ali Walsh? Sanchez said answering the question is as easy as the click of a mouse.

"Watch the film," Sanchez said. "And come to a game."

Make the days count—for 'Poppy'

There are few people on the planet who do not know of Muhammad Ali, of his career as a boxer, civil rights activist and entertainer beloved by many.

To Ali Walsh, however, the man was simply known as "Poppy." He was the elderly gentleman who made silly faces to get his grandson to laugh. He was the guy who lost multiple play fights and impromptu sparring matchups against a grandson who looked at him as invincible.

He was every kid's definition of an outstanding grandfather.

"Some people know Muhammad Ali for how cocky he was. What those people don't know is, it was all for show," Ali Walsh said. "He wanted to sell tickets and get the media popping, so he did what he had to do. Outside the ring, he was very down-to-earth, very humble.

"With me and my brother, he was the best. He was always there for us. When he couldn't watch my games in person, he watched all the televised games. He attended the state championship my sophomore year. I remember it being very cold, but he didn't care."

It was easy to be influenced by the man everyone called "The Greatest." Ali Walsh, who wears an "Ali" tattoo on his left arm, early in his life made it a priority to follow his grandfather's footsteps to work hard and be kind.

"It's something I can live up to for the rest of my life," Ali Walsh said. "Working in the classroom, working in the weight room, working on the field...if I ever feel like quitting, I always thought about what would he do."

On his inner biceps is a reminder, a tattoo of his grandfather's famous quote: "Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion."

Indeed, it isn't easy.

"A lot of times, it can be frustrating, because young kids want to be able to make mistakes that may be acceptable for an average person," his mother added. "But he knows when you grow up with a name like Ali, there's a certain responsibility that comes with it."


'I'm pretty...I'm a bad man'

Ali Walsh had often been complimented for having striking good looks. Wilhelmina, one of the world's premier talent-management agencies, took notice and signed him to a modeling contract in June. It was something he said he's wanted since he was a young boy.

"My whole life, I've wanted to be in entertainment and model and be in front of a camera," he said. "When I got the gig, I thought it was pretty sick."

His mother added: "Anything he really wants, he works at it night and day. He gives 1,000 percent when he enjoys it. That's what I love about him; he's really enjoying his life, and not a lot has changed in the sense that he's the same Biaggio as he always was. He's just getting a little more exposure now."

Ali Walsh admitted he received playful ribbing from his Bishop Gorman teammates about the modeling, but it's nothing that bothered him. And most of that chatter ended when he was on the field, whether in practice or in a game.

It was nothing that surprised Sanchez, who calls Ali Walsh a "fun-loving kid who loves to laugh."

"He's never had a problem with the team or at school. You've got to love coaching kids like Biaggio," he said. "He's just a coach's type of kid."

Ali Walsh's resume is full, but he knows there's more to do. There always is when you're an Ali.

"The Ali's my life," Ali Walsh said. "It's something you've got to live up to, especially when you have someone like him as a relative. I mean, he was my idol. He wasn't just my grandfather. He was the person I looked up to."


Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles


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