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Biaggio Ali Walsh reflects at RJ Las Vegas banquet on grandfather Muhammad Ali’s death

The eyes of the next generation of Ali were watery, the past 24 hours one of those emotional roller coasters that doesn’t always escape the young.

Death is cruel. Everyone sees it firsthand sooner or later.

Biaggio Ali Walsh is as fast a high school football player as you will find in Nevada and throughout most states, but one thing he has never run from is the enormous fame attached to his family’s name.

He wants to forge his own identity while embracing those athletic gifts passed down through a sports icon.

“He would have been very proud and would have loved to have been here,” Biaggio said. “I do my best to take after him in many ways, mostly his hard work and dedication. I want to build my own legacy, and I feel like he passed the torch down to all of us.

“There will never be another Muhammad Ali. Ever. But in making a name for myself, I want to make him proud. I think he would be.”

The greatest of them all has died, and yet his spirit and fight live on in millions across the globe, but none more so than his children and grandchildren.

One day after Muhammad Ali died at age 74, after the three-time boxing champion succumbed in the Phoenix area from septic shock because of unspecified natural causes, one of his grandsons on Saturday night was named Male Athlete of the Year at the Review-Journal’s first Best of Nevada Preps banquet at Red Rock Resort.

Ali Walsh, about to enter his senior year at Bishop Gorman High and one of Nevada’s best running backs, was also named the year’s top football player after leading the Gaels to their seventh straight state championship and second consecutive mythical national title.

Ali Walsh attended the banquet with his parents and other family members, the plan for them now to depart for Louisville, Kentucky, where Muhammad Ali’s funeral will be Friday in his hometown and be preceded by a public procession.

The presence of Ali was felt from the beginning Saturday, and it was more than appropriate that the banquet’s guest speaker was basketball legend Bill Walton.

He first met Ali as a freshman at UCLA, when the heavyweight champion had refused induction into the U.S. Army and was stripped of his title.

Ali would then frequent peace rallies at UCLA during the Vietnam War.

“Muhammad Ali meant everything to me,” Walton said. “He was our inspiration. He was our role model. He was our hero. He stood up for truth and justice and the American way. He was so kind and so generous. His sense of vision and compassion was unmatched.

“To have this banquet happen on this day and the state of Nevada come together to honor, in part, Muhammad Ali’s grandson, that’s a Disney movie. Especially when you consider that Muhammad Ali at this age and how (race relations) were in the country, it would not have happened. He would not have been allowed in the ballroom. Now, his grandson is a guest of honor because his grandfather stood up for what was right.”

Bishop Gorman and students with famous last names, particularly athletes, is as common as the Gaels and lopsided football victories. But when you win as much as they do and a standard is set for anyone who first puts on the school’s colors, entitlement won’t get you very far with those deciding who plays.

When you have as many talented players as Bishop Gorman, who you are and where you come from doesn’t hold much weight if you can’t perform.

Ali Walsh, whose brother, Nico, is a boxer, doesn’t have any such problem. Biaggio and his incredible burst are bound for a Division I scholarship after next season.

“We really don’t do anything different with those types of kids,” Gaels coach Kenny Sanchez said. “It’s who they are. It’s who their families are. It’s their background. I’ll bring out motivational quotes from famous people all the time for the kids, and last year I had one from Muhammad Ali about working hard and sacrificing, but it wasn’t like I had to ask Biaggio about it beforehand. We just try to keep things as normal as possible. We don’t ever really acknowledge the fame part of it. We coach every kid the same way. You get what you earn.”

It’s the sort of mantra Biaggio’s mother, Rasheda, spoke about Saturday when describing her father and the previous 24 hours. She knew the world would respond when her father died, but nobody could ever truly comprehend all the words and memories that flooded the internet and TV and newspapers.

“My dad was so proud of my boys, not just in athletics, but especially in their academics,” she said. “Dad was such a champion. No one is ever really prepared for something like this, even though you know we will all one day meet our maker.

“What has transpired over the last (24 hours) shocked all of us, and the world, to see how gracious everyone has been and the outpouring of love.

“What a testament to what my dad stood for in life.”

To the side, his eyes watery and emotions obviously pulling at his heart, a grandson of the greatest of them all stood quietly.

The next generation of Ali forging ahead.

Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Twitter: @edgraney

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