Alston ready to seize the play
Senior LB hasn't played a ton, but that doesn't mean he wasn't growing
IOWA CITY -- Quinton Alston is new here. He's not new to the Hawkeyes. He's a senior and he's poised to take over the middle linebacker spot on a defense that returns its front four and that should be pretty good.
He's new to the spokesperson role. He's so new he reached out and offered to hold the mic for a cameraman during interviews Wednesday. He's new to the spotlight, and he's off to a good start in the manners department.
"I think he's really excited about it," Iowa inside linebackers coach Jim Reid said Wednesday, when asked about having a senior starter and that starter maximizing his one shot at the starting lineup.
"He's tough, he's physical, and you know what?" Reid said. "He has the respect of our players. When he speaks, he's like E.F. Hutton, people listen. [That's a reference to the commercials for the Hutton financial company.]"
Alston, a 6-1, 232-pounder from Sicklerville, N.J., is eager not anxious. He wants the pressure. This is what he's been working up to and now here it is.
"My sophomore year, I think was pretty much sitting back and admiring what was in front of me," Alston said. "There was James [Morris], Christian [Kirksey] and Anthony [Hitchens, the three seniors who started at linebacker last season], I tried to become a student of the game.
"I sat back and learned and tried to take it all in. I was set on learning more and with that going on I started to think a little more. Now, that I have all the details and the bigger concepts down, I think I'm starting to play faster and let my talent show."
Head coach Kirk Ferentz wondered last week about Alston's sophomore season. Alston's 2013 effort put that to rest.
"Quinton is a guy a year ago at this time I wasn't sure where that was going, quite frankly based on the year before that," Ferentz said. "He had a really good spring and had an outstanding fall. If James wasn't here last year, we had al lthe confidence in the world he would've played really well. He got positioned behind a very good player. The transformation he's made in 12 months gives you a lot of confidence."
Part of what brought that out was Alston's role in the third-down defense, namely the rush package defensive coordinator Phil Parker used called "Raider." Alston lined up as a defensive end in a three-man front. Sophomore Reggie Spearman also played end in this. He's poised to take over the weakside linebacker position alongside Alston.
"It was pretty fun," Alston said. "We played out of position a little bit coming off the edge in different packages and blitzes. It was really fun for me, just going out there and trusting your ability. I didn't have that many responsibilities or think as much. It was pretty fun."
The "Raider" had some successes. Reid said its biggest was the enthusiasm it gave Alston and Spearman.
"Something you may not see that I could see was all of a sudden maybe Reggie and Quinton walk into the meeting room with their chests out just a little bit more, with a little bit of a smile on their face," Reid said. "All of a sudden now it means a little bit more because they're part of it, and they deserved to be part of it because they worked hard. So, growth takes a lot of different avenues that you need to see."
This is what Alston wants. He is a senior and this is his shot. He wants the starting middle linebacker job for a team that should be picked among the leaders in the Big Ten's west division.
"I'm not putting too much pressure on myself," he said. "I'm trying to take on the leadership roles the three guys ahead of me left for us. They taught us how to do it. We have the blueprint."
He's eager, not anxious. This is what he's wanted.
"I have to step up," Alston said.
Another avenue of growth you might not have noticed was the charts the linebackers keep on the sidelines during games. Reid collected them at halftime and pulled out some knowledge. The coaches also charted the game, but this exercise keeps players who aren't playing into it.
It pays off when it's their turn. You know now that it's Alston's turn.
"I just want you to know that he [Alston] coached James last year as hard as I did, because that's what we ask our players to do is to coach each other," Reid said. "Quinton has a great focus. He's got a great intensity, and right now he has a great enthusiasm."