Pac-10 Football Media Day was all about conference schools putting their best foot forward.
Each school was represented by their head football coach and one player to represent their team.
Selecting a player to represent the team, the school, and the direction of a football program isn't as simple as it sounds.
Since arriving in Pullman a little over a year ago, Coach Wulff has made an number of excellent decisions.
Choosing Alfred to meet with the media ranks as yet another outstanding move by the head man who is turning WSU football into a competitive program.
Alfred is the epitome of the type of player Coach Wulff wants on his football team.
Minutes into our chat after lunch at Pac-10 Football Media Day, it was crystal clear why Kenny Alfred is an outstanding football player.
Alfred is an outstanding, well-rounded person.
Right off the bat, Alfred's eyes lit up with an opportunity to talk Cougar football. Despite hours of interviews preceding my chance to meet with Kenny, he was still excited and bursting with enthusiasm to share his anticipation for a great season of Cougar football.
One of the reasons Alfred has a "fire burning" to get back on the practice field with his team stems from having to sit out spring practice while recovering from off-season surgery.
What was it like for Alfred to stand on the sidelines while his team worked out this spring?
"It gave me a real, new perspective. A lot of things after the surgery gave me a new fresh perspective honestly, and it improved me personally I think. I've never gone through that before. The longest I've sat out before was a week my freshman year with a broken hand...On one hand it really helped me visualize the game a different way...It was excruciating going to bed every night and wanting to wake up the next day and throw on the pads. There's a certain perspective I'd already developed for the game and it (watching from the sidelines) just made it more layered."
Alfred was surprised at how much he took for granted about playing offensive line because he was simply used to going out on the field and getting the job done.
Subtle things about hand placement, how you position your hips and a myriad of intuitive moves were missing in the play of some of his younger, less experienced teammates. Sharing those insights with his team was welcomed and well received.
"I've got a huge amount of respect for my coaches but at the same time I've gained even more respect for them. Because it's really difficult to try and teach someone one day and that they'll do correctly. Then the next day, they might not do it that well."
Curious about what it was like to watch someone else play his position, Alfred talked about the fine spring Andrew Roxas had filling in at center.
"I think it's great (Roxas filling in at center). He's got a lot of fire in him, a lot of enthusiasm. He just wants the team to do better. I hesitate to say this, but I know where I stand. I'd be happy to step in and play guard... tackle..."
Having discussed with Coach Harold Etheridge the possibility of Alfred playing another position on the line this fall, I shared his offensive line mentor's response.
Coach Etheridge rejected that idea the instant it was brought up. Repeating that exchange with Alfred, he just smiled with pride and laughed along with me. His offensive line coach isn't about to start any experiments with Alfred.
"That's awesome. I just can't wait to get down in the stance, feeling as good as I do right now, put a hand on the ball and get it going."
The Cougs open this season with a conference game against Stanford. The Cardinal soundly thumped WSU last year 58-0 in Palo Alto, Calif. So what is going to make a difference this when the Cougs host Stanford in Pullman? What will Alfred and his team do better this year?
"Everything. That's the easy, cheesy answer but at the same time we feel like we have to respond in all of our games. All of our situations. When things don't go as well as we'd like, we need to be ready to respond to adversity immediately. Last year when we got dinged once we might waver a little bit. When we got dinged again, then things would go downhill. We absolutely have be able to handle momentum. To handle the problems. To handle the situations as a team and that will help us in all of our games."
WSU has talent on potential up front on the offensive line. What they lack is a wealth of experience. Alfred is not only aware of that fact, it's familiar territory for him.
"I'm in a position where I can express to players that I went through that same process. Being a young guy and going into that first season. Being thrown into the fire and knowing that it's not about being 18 or 19 years old compared to being 23, 24 years old. It's about a mental acuity. It's about maturity. It's about stepping up and saying 'It doesn't matter how old I am. I'm going to all out'. That's something I want to see. That's something I think we will see."
When it comes to playing on the offensive line, Alfred knows what he's talking about.
Having earned his spot as a starter at the age of 18, he credits always playing with his older brother and older players to put aside any hesitation that might be brought on by being a young guy.
Playing football at the speed of Pac-10 competition and learning the complexities of a Division I offense doesn't come easy.
After a day of classes, watching game films and practice, Alfred recalls studying the playbook for at least an hour every night to etch every formation and play into his memory bank.
"(There's) a necessity of dedication to really focus and get it done so that when Saturday rolls around you're not going to make mistakes. It hurts much worse to let down your teammates or let down yourself or let down your coaching staff when they are expecting you to step up and do your job than it does to have a broken finger or something, you know? To do the play correctly and let's say I hyper-extend my elbow, I can deal with that stuff. I can play with dislocated fingers. It doesn't matter. I can't play with the guilt of knowing I let down my team's play. That isn't an option. That's something preventable. That drives me completely."
When it comes to studying, Alfred isn't all about watching game films and memorizing the play book. He excels in the classroom. Last season was the third consecutive year Kenny was named to the Pac-10 All-Academic team.
Add to that the fact that he earned a bachelor's degree in English and graduated in May. He will continue his education this fall by taking a full load of sociology and English classes to complement his passion for playing football.
Kenny Alfred is truly a student/athlete.
Looking toward the future, where does Alfred see himself?
"I want to enrich myself as a person no matter what I'm doing. I think that's the bottom line. I want to learn and I want to grow no matter where I'm at or what I'm doing."
Cougar football is on track and moving forward under the leadership of Coach Wulff. Kenny Alfred is testimony to that fact.
Originally published on Examiner.com
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