The Times West Virginian

Sports

March 31, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN- Speed read: After slow start, Alford finds niche

MORGANTOWN — The legendary Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige used to say that his one-time Negro League teammate and Hall of Fame outfielder Cool Papa Bell was so fast so that “he could turn out the light and jump in bed before it got dark.”

Well, there are some West Virginia football players who believe if Bell had tried that little stunt with their teammate and wide receiver Mario Alford standing next to him, by the time Bell got to the bed he’d have to ask Alford to move over because he is there first, so fast he’d would be snuggled under the covers.

Now both stories may have a touch of fiction to them, Cool Papa Bell having admitted in a story carried on the website Mississippi History Now that the roots of the story came one time when he arrived at the hotel room before Paige, noticed a short in the light switch that delayed the room going dark, made a bet with Paige he could turn off the light and be in bed before the room got dark … and then did it.

Paige took it from there.

As for Alford’s speed, well, you ask him how fast he is and he says, “I really don’t know how fast I am.”

Follow that up by asking him who’s the fastest man on the team and he answers: “Oh, man. On the team? I’d say me. I’m the fastest on the team.”

Modest?

No.

Honest?

Probably.

See, when he showed up in West Virginia from Georgia Military Academy before last season, coaches had visions of having found Tavon Austin’s replacement.

Alford seemed to be an Austin clone at 5-8, 174. Austin had been listed at 5-9, 174.

Both were waterbug-quick with blazing speed. Both could catch the football and go with it after they caught it.

So, it was only natural they put the junior college transfer in the slot for his junior season.

Might as well have asked him to wear 342-pound offensive guard Quinton Spain’s pants, too.

It just didn’t fit.

The big plays they envisioned just didn’t happen. He accounted for just seven yards in his first game, that on a rush, 11 against Oklahoma, none against Maryland, 43 against Oklahoma State, none against Baylor, 13 against Texas Tech, none against Kansas State.

After seven games, Alford had caught only nine balls. Austin had caught 10 or more passes in the first six games of the previous season.

It was apparent Alford wasn’t Austin.

“I had my mind set before I came that I was only me, that I can’t be nobody else but myself,” he said.

Whereas Austin’s shiftiness, combined with his speed, made him a first-round draft pick, Alford had a different approach.

“My vertical speed is my greatest asset. I’m working on getting better laterally,” he said.

Part of his early inability to make big plays was an injury, more of it was that despite looking like a slot receiver, having skills like a slot receiver, he turned out to be a wide receiver in a slot receiver’s clothing.

“I’m really comfortable outside,” he admitted after Saturday’s public practice in Morgantown. “On the outside you don’t have to wiggle through all the linebackers. It’s basically straight routes.”

And straight routes mean he can take advantage of his speed.

They moved him outside and it was as if they traded for a new player.

“The coaches wanted me play outside. They felt I was a bigger threat to the cornerback one on one. They didn’t think anyone could stay in front of me,” he explained.

And he would quickly prove that.

He had been moved to the outside in practice but was behind Ronald Carwell, but just before the TCU game in Fort Worth, Carswell was suspended and Alford was the starter.

Quarterback Clint Trickett discovered him that day and he made three catches for 62 yards, two of them coming in touchdown drives that helped WVU beat TCU, 30-27, in overtime.

The next week, another overtime game, this a 47-40 loss to Texas, Alford lit the place up with a 72-yard touchdown reception. He followed that up with a 46-yard grab against Kansas, setting the stage for the season’s final game and what really would be his coming out party.

Against Iowa State in double overtime, he caught eight passes for 215 yards — Austin-type stuff, Chris Henry-type stuff — especially since there was a 76-yard TD grab included.

Now, Alford is there from the start, has an off-season and will have a spring under his belt.

He may not make anyone forget Tavon Austin, but he might wind up making them remember Mario Alford.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

1
Text Only
Sports
  • WVU, Tennessee finalize 2018 meeting

    West Virginia University and Tennessee have finalized their season-opening, Sept. 1, 2018, meeting in Charlotte, N.C., at Bank of America Stadium.
    Both teams will receive $2.5 million for the game and have a chance to earn up to $3.2 million with ticket incentives.
    Each team will buy 12,500 tickets and set aside 2,000 of its allotment for students.
    The game, played on the home field of the Carolina Panthers of the NFL, is being put on by the Charlotte Sports Federation.

    July 23, 2014

  • Holgorsen’s program hits turning point

    You can almost sense, as you watch West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen sit before the gathered Big 12 media contingent answering questions in the Omni Hotel in Arlington, Texas, that he senses his program has reached a turning point.

    July 23, 2014

  • Fleming, Billy.jpg WVU’s Fleming signs contract with Yankees

     Second baseman Billy Fleming of the West Virginia University baseball team has signed a professional contract with the New York Yankees, foregoing his upcoming senior season.
    “Ever since I was a little kid, it’s been my dream to play professional baseball,” Fleming said. “It is still surreal that I get to chase my dream, but I am ready to get after it. I loved my three years at WVU and want to thank all the coaches that made it possible for me to achieve my dream.”

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Big 12 Media Days Foo_time(1).jpg Trickett’s play key factor for Mountaineers’ success

     In the end, it comes down to the quarterback.
    Always has with Dana Holgorsen, always will.
    Quarterback is the offense with the West Virginia University coach. When he does well, the team wins – almost always.
    When he does poorly, the team doesn’t stand much of a chance.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Growing demands on college athletes concerns Wyant

    Fred Wyant, one of the greatest quarterbacks in West Virginia University’s history, has lashed out at today’s growing demands on college athletes.
    The 80-year-old Star City resident led the Mountaineers to a 30-4 record as the starter from 1952-1955. Percentage-wise, it’s clearly the best-ever record by a QB in school annals.
    Wyant, a member of the WVU Sports Hall of Fame, came here after graduating with honors from Weston High School. That’s where WVU coach Art “Pappy” Lewis signed him to a four-year scholarship.

    July 23, 2014

  • Big 12 Media Days Foo_time.jpg Texas’ Strong prefers not talking about national title

    Charlie Strong riled up plenty of Texas fans during a statewide spring tour by saying the Longhorns wouldn’t be in the national championship game.
    The new coach toned down his honest assessment in future stops, then said Tuesday in his first appearance at Big 12 media days that he prefers not even talking about championships.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • NMHS hopes new playing surface generates excitement

    The St. Louis Rams coined the nickname “The Greatest Show on Turf” for their collective group or multiple Hall of Famer-caliber players in during the 1999-2001 seasons. If Rams can run on turf, why not Huskies? 

    July 22, 2014

  • FSU's Barfield, Jean-Charles named preseason All-Americans

    Chris Barfield and Jacob Jean-Charles earn preseason honors by being named to the USA College Football Division II Preseason All-American team.

    July 21, 2014

  • Baylor coach isn't buying schedule strength argument

    The College Football Playoff committee has vowed that strength of schedule will be a major criteria when selecting the four teams.

    July 21, 2014

  • Big 12 Commissioner says cheating pays

    Big 12 Commissioner says the NCAA lacks the resources to enforce its rules and that has to change.

    July 21, 2014

Featured Ads
NDN Sports
House Ads
NCAA Breaking News
NCAA Photos