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‘My miracle baby’: Tyler Allgeier’s remarkable journey from underprivileged childhood to BYU walk-on and probable NFL draft pick

After almost giving up football when he was a youngster to almost leaving BYU after his second year, Tyler Allgeier remains grateful and motivated to become an NFL contributor

SHARE ‘My miracle baby’: Tyler Allgeier’s remarkable journey from underprivileged childhood to BYU walk-on and probable NFL draft pick
BYU’s Tyler Allgeier smiles as he scores a touchdown during game against Idaho State at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo

BYU’s Tyler Allgeier smiles as he scores a touchdown during game against Idaho State at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. Allgeier is preparing for this week’s NFL draft, hoping to hear his name called out during the three-day event.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

When former BYU running back and 2022 NFL draft hopeful Tyler Allgeier was a toddler, his 3-year-old cousin unceremoniously dumped him off a skateboard, sending the 18-month-old face-first into some pavement in front of his grandparents’ home.

As blood poured off little Tyler’s nose and face, he didn’t cry at all. 

“Not one tear came out of his eyes. I knew right then that this little boy was tough,” said the single mother who raised Allgeier and his younger sister, Nalonie, at her parents’ home in Fontana, California. “I thought to myself, ‘This kid is going to have a future in sports.’”

“Really, it is all just glory to God and having family support and coaches that believed in me. From my high school coach (Bill Cardosi) to coaches at BYU who believe in me now, just every one of them has contributed to my success.” — BYU running back and NFL draft hopeful Tyler Allgeier

Ester Allgeier was correct in her early assessment, but little did she know back then, or during most of her son’s teenage years, that Tyler’s future would include a chance to play in the NFL. After all, her son almost didn’t make it through childbirth.

A lot of BYU football fans are familiar with Allgeier’s remarkable journey from walk-on to school single-season rushing leader to probable NFL draft pick. What many don’t know is the biggest miracle came well before then.

Ester said when Tyler was born, the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck and they almost lost him.

“So he is technically my little miracle baby,” she said. “He had a very rough first year of his life.”

Allgeier, who rushed for a BYU single-season record 1,601 yards in 2021 before declaring early for the draft, is expected to be the first, and maybe only, Cougar taken when the three-day draft is held later this week in Las Vegas.

Most draft projections call for the 5-foot-11, 220-pound back to be taken the third day, Saturday, when rounds 4-7 are scheduled to be held. Whatever happens, Allgeier says he will be “humble and grateful,” especially considering that he temporarily quit the sport when he was 8 and almost left BYU as a walk-on after his second season in Provo in search of a scholarship. 

He eventually got one, then put together two phenomenal seasons — he was primarily a linebacker as a redshirt freshman in 2019 — and finished No. 5 on BYU’s career rushing yardage list, with 2,899 yards.

“Really, it is all just glory to God and having family support and coaches that believed in me,” he said. “From my high school coach (Bill Cardosi) to coaches at BYU who believe in me now, just every one of them has contributed to my success.”

Big week ahead

After declaring for the draft and foregoing his final two seasons of eligibility in late December, Allgeier trained at Proactive Sports Performance in Southern California for a couple of months to get ready for the NFL combine.

Since BYU’s pro day on March 25, he has been working out in Provo with other BYU football players who are draft hopefuls and members of the strength and conditioning staff. He plans to drive home to California on Wednesday in the 2006 Lexus he bought from his uncle a couple years ago and will watch the draft with his mom, grandmother and sister.

“We are super excited, but very eager to get it over with at the same time,” Ester said. “As a mom, it is nerve-wracking, because we don’t know where he will be going next. We are praying that it is going to be somewhere close to home, but if it isn’t, we will make do with it, like we always do.”

Allgeier said he is anxious, excited and eager to see where he goes in the draft, and which team will take him, but not all that concerned. He is a go-with-the-flow guy who doesn’t worry much. That’s been his way since he was young, his mother said.

“He never gets too high and he never gets too low,” Ester said.

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Tyler Allgeier poses for a picture atop a John Deere tractor with grandfather Robert, who was an influential presence in his life while growing up in Fontana, California.

Ester Allgeier

Allgeier’s only regret is that his grandfather, Robert, won’t be there to experience it. Robert Allgeier died of cancer in February 2021 and was a driving force in Tyler’s life from the time he was a baby. The family believes Robert Allgeier is looking down upon them to this day — and hoping his grandson is drafted by the Indianapolis Colts.

“My grandpa was a Colts fan,” Allgeier said. “He would always say, ‘Hey T-bone, who is going to win, the Colts or someone else?’ And I would say, ‘Let’s give it to the Colts.’ We were Colts fans growing up, for sure.”

Allgeier said he believes he or his agency — Athletes First, which also represents former Cougars Fred Warner and Chris Wilcox — have talked to all 32 NFL teams at one point or another the last four months. He said he’s enjoyed the process.

“I honestly couldn’t tell you which teams have the most interest in me,” he said. “Shoot, it has been crazy. But it has been fun talking to all of them, making relationships with the running backs coaches and stuff. I am getting my name out there, for sure.”

While Allgeier says he will gladly play for any team that believes in him, his mother would like to see him drafted by one of the five teams she says are within driving distance: Rams, Chargers, 49ers, Raiders or Cardinals.

“If he gets picked by the Colts, that would be cool, too,” Ester said. “Other than that, we are not too picky.”

Football on the back burner

Fourteen or so years ago, football wasn’t in Allgeier’s future. The sport he initially disliked had given way to soccer, basketball, baseball and skateboarding — even after that initial face plant.

His best sport before he got to high school was probably soccer, his mom said, and Tyler hated his first year of tackle football so much when he was 7 that he decided not to play when he was 8.

“His dad (who is estranged from the family but still stays in contact with Tyler) signed him up for football when he was 7, and he hated it,” Ester said. “He just didn’t like it, and wanted to spend his time doing something else.”

Ester agreed to let Tyler skip playing football for a year, but only if he would promise to give it another try down the road. She said she just had a feeling that it was his best sport.

“He did it again, and he just fell in love with it,” she said. “When he started playing again, it was like he never skipped a beat. Those are two of my best memories of Tyler growing up, falling off that skateboard and not crying, and playing football again after taking a year off.”

Getting to BYU, and staying there

Actually, none of those years in Fontana were easy, at least financially, on the family. Nor were Tyler’s first couple of years in Provo.

After rushing for more than 5,000 yards while also playing linebacker at Fontana’s Kaiser High, Allgeier did not have a single Division I scholarship offer. He just had a couple from some Division II schools and junior colleges. Kaiser High is 13 miles from Summit High, where BYU’s all-time leading rusher, Jamaal Williams of the Detroit Lions, played and became a prized recruit.

Not so with Allgeier, who sent his mother to Google to learn more about BYU when coaches visited him at Kaiser and asked him to make a visit to Provo in 2018. They urged him to think about accepting a preferred walk-on offer because they were out of scholarships.

“I wasn’t a college follower, even in sports, and when he was getting out of high school, we weren’t even thinking about the state of Utah. We were thinking somewhere in California,” Ester said. “After BYU talked to Tyler, he came home and told me they wanted us to visit. So I said, ‘Let’s take a trip. Why not?’ He fell in love with it instantly. He was like, ‘Mom, this place is beautiful.’”

Although the Allgeiers are not members of the faith that sponsors BYU, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Tyler “fit right in” and never had a problem adhering to the school’s honor code or taking religion classes because they aligned with what he was taught growing up.

“He fit just like a puzzle piece,” Ester said. “It was perfect.”

Working at Walmart to make ends meet

Although she has worked for an auto auction company for almost 28 years, raising two children in Southern California on one salary hasn’t been easy, Ester said. Still, she made it a priority to give her kids as many opportunities in sports as possible.

When BYU talked to Allgeier about walking on and paying nonmember tuition, which is higher than for church members, they had a long talk about being all-in, knowing Tyler would have to rely on grants and student loans and the entire family would go into considerable debt.

“We knew it was going to be (costly) until he earned a scholarship, and I wanted to be sure Tyler understood that,” she said.

Ester figures Tyler has between $20K and $25K in student debt to repay from those first two years of being a walk-on.

As has been well-documented, Tyler Allgeier took a job collecting shopping carts in the neighborhood Walmart parking lot on University Parkway his first summer in Provo, saying he wanted to help with expenses as much as possible.

Ester wasn’t in favor of it. She wanted him to concentrate on school work and football, but understood his motives and was appreciative of it.

“He kept thinking about how much money we were spending to keep him there and wanted to be as less of a burden on me as possible,” she said.

Allgeier says as a freshman he didn’t have a car and didn’t want to ask his teammates for rides or handouts, so he used Uber a lot to get to work from his campus dorm room, sometimes spending nearly as much on a ride as he would make during a shift.

“I just tried to make a little money so my mom didn’t have to send me as much,” he said.

When his grandfather died, Allgeier inherited the Ford Ranger truck that Robert used to drive. Now Nalonie drives it.

Speaking of nice rides, what will be Allgeier’s first major purchase when and if he gets a nice signing bonus?

Ester said knowing her son, he won’t buy anything out of the ordinary.

“The reason I say that is he is a very simple person,” she said. “He knows how we struggled as he grew up. … Tyler is not a very big spender. I honestly don’t think he is going to go on a shopping spree or anything like that.”

‘Just climb the ladder’

Also well-documented are Allgeier’s first two years in Provo, when he was far from a household name. He appeared in four games his first year (so he could still redshirt, under NCAA rules), mostly on special teams, and had nine carries for 49 yards. He was moved to linebacker in 2019 and was actually a good one, posting a career-best nine tackles against Boise State and finishing the year with 26 takedowns.

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BYU running back Tyler Allgeier runs a drill as NFL scouts watch during BYU’s pro day at the university’s indoor practice facility in Provo on Friday, March 25, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

In the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve, 2019, BYU’s running backs corps had sustained so many injuries that Allgeier was switched back to his original position, and he had eight carries for 77 yards in that 38-34 loss to Hawaii.

Coaches believed they had found their back of the future to complement Lopini Katoa. Allgeier believed he needed to be put on scholarship, or he would have to leave. He said at the time his mother was close to $30,000 in debt to help him pursue his dream.

Allgeier met with head coach Kalani Sitake in Sitake’s office shortly after returning from the islands and said as much.

Sitake agreed, telling him he was first on the list.

After the pandemic threatened to destroy the 2020 season, Allgeier rewarded the coaches for their trust, playing in 11 games for the 11-1 Cougars and rushing for 1,130 yards while supplanting Katoa as the go-to back for Zach Wilson and an offense that was among the best in the country.

In 2021, Allgeier finished No. 1 in the country in rushing touchdowns (23), No. 4 in the country in rushing yards (1,601) and No. 4 in total carries (276). He was named a Doak Walker Award semifinalist, a Sporting News Second Team All-American and the Pro Football Network Independent Player of the Year, among other honors.

His play against Arizona State in which he chased down an ASU linebacker who had intercepted Jaren Hall and forced a fumble with an over-the-shoulder strip punch was viewed by many as the play of the year in college football.

Asked about the legacy he leaves at BYU, Allgeier said it is one of dedication, hard work and perseverance.

“I really just hope to show that literally just putting in hard word and all those sleepless nights are paying off,” he said. “Literally just putting your head down and working is what matters. … I just blocked out all the noise, no matter what my position was. I just climbed the ladder.”

And when he fell off, he didn’t even cry.