Aug. 21, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word –
The idea that the chase is better than the catch depends presents an interesting conundrum for Georgia Tech senior linebacker, Chase Alford.
Through his first three years with the Yellow Jackets, the Conyers, Ga., native and former Heritage High School captain and two-way star (he played tight end offensively) has forged an identity for flying around, primarily on special teams, in search of the ball-carrier.
He’s even aptly named, as his entire name is dedicated to the pursuit — his surname can even be broken down to “All-for-D.”
His relentlessness has equated into more playing time and more opportunities for impact.
After getting on the field for five games as a freshman, he hasn’t missed a game over the past two seasons, playing in all 14 games as a sophomore, combining for seven total tackles and three solo, and all 12 last year. As a junior Alford set career highs for total tackles (11), recording a career-best three stops (one solo) in last year’s opener against Alcorn State, then making two unassisted stops against Pittsburgh for his ACC high.
Heading into his senior year, Chase is once again living up to his name, this time with the ultimate prize being a starting spot at mike linebacker. It’s a two-way race between him and sophomore Brant Mitchell, who started three games last season as a freshman, recording 36 tackles (25 solo, two-and-a-half for loss) with a sack and two interceptions. It has become quite a compelling battle.
“They’re rotating reps right there. One day it’s Brant, the next day it’s Chase and it’s a good battle,” said defensive coordinator Ted Roof. “They’re treating every rep like it’s gold. It’s competitive and that’s what you want because it makes them both better.”
Alford relishes the competition.
“It feels great to just go out every day, compete, and go out there and be a leader and make sure everybody’s on the same page,” he said. “We’re doing everything at the best of our ability.”
Alford feels the entire LB corps is improved from last season and being a leader for them is paramount.
“Me and P.J. [Davis] are seniors, now so we’re really trying to take that role of leadership that we haven’t had in the past, honestly,” he said. “We’re trying to make big changes on all the linebackers and the defense and the whole team, but especially in the linebackers room, making sure everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to do, on and off the field. I think that’s going to be big this year. Not making the coaches say something. Just me, P.J. and Brant, correcting mistakes, whatever it may be.”
Flying around at around 225 pounds, down a little bit from 2015 and nearly nine pounds lighter than his max weight of his sophomore season, Alford feels quicker and is covering more of the field in better pursuit of the ball.
“A lot of people are better in shape. I’ve been moving a lot better from sideline to sideline,” he said. “I’ve always been good in between the tackles but this fall and summer we’ve been working a lot of speed work. I feel like I can get out there faster on the sweep when those A-backs are really getting out there fast.
“I feel like I’ve come a long way but I still have some improvement to do,” he added. “I still make minor mistakes in practice. I have to get all those corrected.”
As for who will be out there first come Sept. 3 in Dublin, the bottom line is simple.
“Production. I want consistent production,” said Roof. ‘They’ve been about the same, so it’s been good. It’s been competitive and that makes both of them better, which, in turn, makes everybody better.”
Alford and Mitchell both want to start, of course, but they recognize there is a bigger picture — Georgia Tech defensive success.
“It, obviously, would mean that I earned it but Brant and I are good friends and we go out there and compete,” he said. “We hung out all this summer, we’re good buds and we’re pulling for each other and whoever gets it is whoever gets it. I think it’s real good to have that leadership and everybody’s working for the same goal.”
Alford does have special teams to fall back on and that’s not simply a consolation prize by any stretch.
“That’s how I first started getting on the field was special teams,” he said. “I take real pride in it and I enjoy doing it. I enjoy being out there and as many special teams I can be on, I’ll do it.”
Alford has a chip on his shoulder regarding special teams, an area in which Georgia Tech struggled last season, including ranking last in the ACC in net punting (35.6 yards per punt). He sees improvement there with the team’s all-in approach this fall camp.
“Some of the special teams are the same, some are different, but I think because each coach has a special team, they’re not overloaded with the amount of work so they can focus on that one special team,” he said. “[Assistant] Tim [McGrath] does a great job getting our film ready. He’s more a behind-the-scenes guy but he really does scout the other team really well and he’s a big part of the special teams, too. That really helps us.”
But mostly it’s up to the players and attitude is everything.
“People have to take pride in it. If they’re not going to take pride in it, the coaches don’t want them out there,” Alford said. “If you don’t want to be on special teams then they’ll take you off special teams because plenty of people want to be on there.
“What we rank in kickoff return, kickoff – no team wants to be closer to the bottom,” he added. “I think this year we have a lot of older guys, especially on some special teams, which is good because some of the younger guys don’t realize how important it really is.”