Kiko Alonso wasn’t sure what to expect while walking off the field after his first practice with the Bills, so he did what came natural. The rookie linebacker stood his ground and tackled the issue before moving on to the next question, the next play of his career, the next step of his life.
Yes, he made mistakes at the University of Oregon, also known as the location where Animal House was filmed in the 1970s. In fact, he screwed up big time. He was arrested for driving under the influence in 2010. Fifteen months later, he passed out in a stranger’s house, bringing new meaning to the term “all-out blitz.”
The incidents could be viewed in numerous ways. One is that he may very well have a drinking problem. Another is that his behavior should be filed under Young & Dumb. A third possibility is that it’s a combination of both. Alonso immediately pleaded guilty to the middle option.
“Definitely college-kid stuff,” he said. “I was a young kid, immature, and I made mistakes. I’ve put it in my past. I’m just trying to focus on football.”
Alonso’s answers sounded rehearsed, but what else can he say? The last thing he needed after his first NFL workout was a discussion about his heavy boozing in college. He’s a polite kid. He didn’t shy away from the subject, but he sounded shy. Ask him for his two cents, and he gives you a penny and makes you scrounge for the other.
Fortunately, his actions didn’t end in tragedy. Rather than pass judgment and jump to conclusions, consider the facts and be realistic. Take a look in the mirror, too. Raise your hand if you have a few regrettable moments from your college days. I’ll raise two hands, only because I don’t have more.
For most kids, the stunts they pulled never reach their parents let alone the newspapers. Amen. That said, nobody is condoning his actions, either, or giving him a free pass after two alcohol-related arrests. He was sentenced to two years probation, 200 hours of community service and ordered to counseling. He said he hasn’t had a drink in years.
“I just put it in my past,” he said. “I’m moving forward and focusing on football.”
Fair enough, it’s time Alonso learns from his mistakes and becomes a functional adult. He’s being held to a higher standard. If he’s going to be a professional athlete, he needs to carry himself like one. The same goes for free agent receiver Da’Rick Rogers, who was signed after failing multiple drug tests. Doug Marrone made his message clear Friday when answering a question about Rogers. This is your second chance, fellas, and there might not be another. Straighten out whatever problems you had before arriving in Buffalo. You’re playing with men now, and it’s time to start acting like one.
“I’ve talked to them just like I have spoken to other players,” Marrone said. “You have an outstanding opportunity. People are going to be watching. It is probably going to be your last shot. As long as you understand that, that is what you get yourself into. It’s all on you.”
Evidently, the Bills saw minimal risk when selecting Alonso with the 46th pick. They’re not looking for angels on defense. They’re desperate for a middle linebacker who has a nose for the ball and can attack the line of scrimmage. If he can stay out of trouble and perform on the field, his troubles in college will be forgotten.
The early returns were promising. He’s 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds but doesn’t have a hulking frame. He’s long and athletic and has good speed after coming back from a torn ACL. In fact, he was rehabbing when he was busted for DUI. He was suspended for the 2010 season, but likely would have missed the entire year, anyway.
Alonso was an energetic and exciting player at Oregon, which was in stark contrast to his quiet demeanor in rookie camp. Marrone planned to talk to him about containing himself from hitting teammates without pads during seven-on-seven drills. Moments later, Alonso barely made a peep.
“I’m much different on the field than I am off the field,” he said. “Football is a lot different from regular life. Football is intense. I save that for the football field.”
Alonso was a standout baseball player as a kid but gave up the sport because he was hooked on the speed and contact that comes with football. He’s been a tackling machine since he played at Los Gatos High, the same school in Northern California that produced Trent Edwards.
Alonso was born in Boston, lived in Texas for 10 years and landed in California before high school. His father is a computer engineer who grew up in Puerto Rico. His mother is a Spanish teacher. Alonso and his two brothers are fluent in English and Spanish, and all three are good athletes.
His older brother, Carlos, is a middle infielder in the Phillies organization and currently playing in Class A Clearwater. His younger brother, Lucas, has aspirations to become a mixed martial arts fighter. Kiko is the biggest, so the other two ganged up on him when they were growing up. He can expect more double-teams next season.
He sounds like he’s ready.
Alonso might have been a first-round pick last month if not for his problems off the field. Scouts liked his instincts for the game, his ability to take on blockers and his ability in pass coverage. He had four interceptions last season and was defensive MVP in the 2011 Rose Bowl, when Oregon beat Wisconsin and quarterback Russell Wilson in a shootout.
It’s funny how things work out. Tom Brady grew up about 30 miles from Los Gatos in San Mateo, Calif. Brady is a legend in Boston but arrived after Alonso moved to Texas. He was a star in Northern California but was gone before Alonso showed up in Los Gatos. Alonso will be chasing him twice this season.
He’s taking the next step.
“I’m ready to come in here and compete,” Alonso said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity. It’s surreal. I’m still in shock. It’s just awesome, and I’m excited.”