Behind the ‘Legend Of Kiko Alonso’

Photo By Jeff Fusco

Photo By Jeff Fusco

Jermel Ladd first noticed the transformation just before the start of their senior year of high school.

He and his best friend, Kiko Alonso, decided to strap on the pads and hit the field for a little one-on-one work prior to the start of fall camp. Alonso was the ball carrier, Ladd the defender, and when they popped, Ladd was overtaken by a force — and a ferociousness — that seemed to appear out of nowhere.

“I did not know that existed in him,” he said.

The rest of his Los Gatos teammates would soon make the painful discovery themselves.

“It was shocking because I had never seen it before. It was just a whole new level. I remember we were just out there in shorts and a shirt (during practice), no pads, no nothing, and he was just out there tackling people,” said Ladd.  “He is reckless in that sense. He would literally just take someone out that wasn’t really expecting it – they were expecting it, but they weren’t expecting him to finish the play. I don’t know where that comes from, honestly. It was new to me, but I know he carried that through Oregon.”

There are a host of Ducks that can attest to that. Josh Huff was a year behind Alonso. He remembers his first football encounter with the middle linebacker quite well.

“Freshman year of college,” Huff recalls. “He was just like, ‘Don’t come across the middle. I’m going to have your head.’ …I’m just glad he’s on our side of the ball this year when we play the Bills and not on the other side.”

Kenjon Barner was asked if he had any similar run-ins with Alonso in Eugene. Barner said forget that — we only had to go back in time an hour or so for such an anecdote.

“We can just go today. He walked by me and said, ‘I hope you’re ready. I’m going to hit you today.’ We didn’t even have pads on,” the running back said with a laugh. “That’s just the kind of guy Kiko is. He’s always trying to get in your head, always trying to get the upper hand mentally.

“I tell the guys all the time: ‘Kiko’s not all the way there.’ When it comes to hitting, man, he doesn’t care. He’s going to try and smash you. You guys will see that once we get pads on, get to see this guy play up close and personal. The way he hits guys makes you think twice.”

Football discovered

Kristian Alonso was born August 14, 1990, in Newton, Mass. His father Carlos is originally from Cuba and was raised in Puerto Rico. His mother Monica hails from Colombia. Together they had three sons: Kristian [pronounced Krees-tee-AHN], who eventually went by “Kiko” after being teased by enough misguided kids at school for having what they interpreted to be a girl’s name; Carlos Jr., and Lucas. They spoke both English and Spanish in the Alonso household. Kiko, as a result, is bilingual.

It was the Texas twang, though, that first stood out to Ladd when he met Kiko in fifth grade. Carlos’ job as a computer engineer took the family from Newton to Texas for a spell before they finally ended up in the affluent Northern California town of Los Gatos. Ladd was a transfer himself; that and their common love for competition made them instant friends. When it came to sports, the Alonsos were a baseball family. Carlos was a big baseball guy, and the boys followed suit. (Carlos Jr. is currently a second baseman in the Phillies minor-league system.) Kiko was a first baseman, and a fine one. He didn’t start playing organized football until his freshman year of high school. But the moment he got a sniff of the sport, his tastes began to change.

“Once I started playing football, baseball got kind of boring,” he admitted, “because you can’t hit anybody.”

Middle linebacker proved the perfect position to scratch that itch to hit, and hit he did, leading the entire Central Coast Section with 150 tackles his senior year. He also played tight end and led the Wildcats in receiving while finding ways to get a little contact in on that side of the ball as well.

(More Alonso/Los Gatos highlights here.)

Los Gatos won the league title that year, finishing with a 10-1-1 record. Alonso was given a full ride to Oregon to play football for Chip Kelly.

Kelly-Alonso relationship is tested

Casey Matthews was asked: What’s the angriest you’ve ever seen Chip Kelly? He smiled immediately as the answer popped right into his mind.

The offseason heading into Matthews’ senior year, Kelly’s players kept showing up in the news for all the wrong reasons.  Running back LaMichael James was arrested  on assault charges. Place-kicker Rob Beard and defensive end Matt Simms were charged with misdemeanor assault for their involvement in a street fight. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was identified as a suspect in a theft.

Kelly called a team meeting to express his disappointment and let his players know that further incidents wouldn’t be tolerated. That night, Alonso was cited for driving under the influence.

“He told us the guy was off the team. He was mad,” said Matthews. “We were in the team meeting room. He rips us for the offseason — everyone is getting in trouble, the star quarterback was stealing from a frat, domestic violence charge, a bunch of little stuff — finally he calls a team meeting, rips us — get it together — and then that night [the DUI]. It was bad.

“He couldn’t breathe. That was the worst I’ve seen.”

Alonso was suspended for the entire 2010 season.

Strike two came in the Spring of 2011 when Alonso was arrested on burglary and trespassing charges. Kelly suspended him indefinitely. The burglary charges later were dropped, and Alonso plead guilty to criminal mischief.

“It was so bad how they wrote about it in the paper,” said Ladd. “They made it seem like it was a planned event when it was just a drunk pass out and someone just got scared. At the end of the day, he was a young kid, 19, 20 years old…You run into trouble like that, you’re definitely going to make different decisions, for sure.”

Alonso cleaned himself up and showed Kelly enough between that point and the start of the season to convince him to lift the suspension. His game started coming together as his junior season wore on, culminating in a dominant Rose Bowl performance against Wisconsin in which he came up with one-and-a-half sacks and a key diving interception of a third-quarter Russell Wilson pass that helped deliver the win. He followed that up with a stellar senior season, finishing with 81 tackles (14 for a loss), four interceptions and seven passes defensed.

The Bills selected him in the second round the following spring.

An immediate impact

Former Bill defensive coordinator Mike Pettine had this to say about his early interactions with Alonso:

“I’ve had conversations with him and afterward I was like, ‘I don’t know if he heard a word or truly comprehended what I said,’ ” he told USA Today. “There are times I’ve talked to him about things and he tilts the head and has this ‘Why are you saying this to me?’ look; like the dog with the high-pitched sound…

“We use the term ‘pitch count’ around here a lot, and it’s like he has a pitch count with his words; only so many he can use in a year. He doesn’t talk a lot, but underneath all of it, he’s very intelligent. Soaks everything in, and the proof is what happens. You wonder if he really got that, and then he goes out on the field.”

And does this.

And this.

And somehow, this.

Alonso burst onto the NFL scene, racking up four interceptions, 32 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and four passes defensed in his first four games alone en route to Defensive Rookie of the Month honors in September.

“It’s funny, there are a lot more x’s and o’s now,” said Alonso about playing at this level, “but at the end of the day, you’re running around hitting people.”

With his instincts heading the charge, the PFWA’s NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year played every snap for the Bills in 2013 and finished with 159 tackles and a pair of sacks.

A torn ACL — the second of his football career — forced him to miss all of 2014. His stint in Buffalo proved to be a short one, as he was dealt this offseason to Philly for LeSean McCoy.

Taking root in Philly

Shortly after the deal became official, the Eagles media relations staff reached out to their new middle linebacker to try and set up a conference call with local reporters. Alonso informed them that it was a workout day for him.

Looking to fit it in around his schedule, they asked what time he would be working out.

“All day,” he responded.

The 6-3, 238-pound Alonso usually gets things going around 7 a.m. in the offseason. He’ll hit the weight room for a couple hours, take a little break, then get in a couple hours of field work. From there, a variety of activities — from swimming to surfing to yoga to boxing to ultimate frisbee — will take him into the night.

“If I could work out every minute of the day, I’d probably do it,” he said, “but I can’t do that because I wouldn’t last too long in this sport.”

When he does allow himself some a break, the bachelor is probably playing FIFA (he and Zach Ertz were barking back and forth about who the better FIFA player was during this interview) and hanging out with his dogs Rusty and Dino. He has also volunteered his time up this offseason to help out some local kids, traveling to Penn Wood High School in Lansdowne on several occasions since arriving in Philly to coach fundamentals to their football players.

“He was really good with them, man,” said Penn Wood head coach Nick Lincoln. “He’s really calm, chill. I can see him wanting to coach one day to be honest. I’m going to grab him up when his career is over. It was a really cool experience for my kids.”

On the NovaCare fields, Alonso showed no ill effects from his knee injury. He participated fully this spring as the reps were divided pretty evenly between himself, DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks.

Asked if there is anything different about Alonso from the last time he coached him, Kelly joked that his hair is longer.

“Same thing. I mean, Kiko loves football. He just fits in that same mode as DeMeco and the rest of the guys in that room that love playing football. Plays that middle linebacker position, and it takes so much to do it. You’ve got to be a DB. You’ve got to be a d‑lineman. He’s the same player I saw when I got an opportunity to coach him at Oregon.”

And is still armed with that half-crazed mindset that seemingly came out of nowhere one summer in Los Gatos. Walter Thurmond, whose time at Oregon overlapped with Alonso’s, joked that if you ask him to run through the glass doors leading from the NovaCare facilities to the practice field, “he’ll come out the other side.” It’s a mentality that continues to put even his teammates on edge.

“Oh yeah, gotta let them know,” Alonso said.

“The middle is owned by linebackers, so you have to let those guys know when they’re coming across the middle, whether you let them know [verbally] or let them know with your pads – that they can’t be coming across the middle like that. Because you shouldn’t be coming in there. So they can think twice.”