116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — It was a long journey to the starting lineup for Northern Iowa senior linebacker Alfonzo Lambert.
The Rockford, Ill., native finally saw his hard work pay off last week when he was named UNI’s starting nickel linebacker ahead of its season-opener against Iowa State.
“It meant a lot (to start),” Lambert said. “I’m a big person on just keep your head down and work. I firmly believe that everything is in God’s hands. Once that opportunity was presented to me I took full advantage of it. That’s the thing with just life in general, you’ve got to take your opportunities and run with them.”
Lambert lived up to those words in his debut, delivering a nine-tackle performance against the Cyclones that included a key forced fumble.
“(He’s a) guy that deserved to start that football game for us because of what he’s brought to UNI and the investment he has in UNI,” Coach Mark Farley said. “He played an excellent football game. He goes out, I think it was the second play of the game, ran the guy down on the outside (and) knocked the ball loose and kicked it back 5 yards and thus made it third-and-long.”
The story of Lambert’s long journey to become a starter is the type that’s become unfamiliar in the new era of college athletics.
He grinded his way onto the Panthers’ special teams units, but was only able to earn five spot starts in his career.
But instead of seeking opportunities elsewhere with a transfer, he never once wavered from his commitment to UNI.
“The coaches, my teammates and just the atmosphere,” Lambert said, kept him at UNI. “It’s really something special here. I firmly believe this is a great school, great athletics program and I just love being a part of it. Fighting alongside my teammates, they kept me going. When things get tough I could always look to them and they always got my back. That’s the one thing that always kept me striving to be great here.”
Lambert’s patience and trust in himself has proven so valuable that his capturing of the nickel linebacker position amplifies the type of person and player he is, as it’s the most difficult position to play in defensive coordinator Jeremiah Johnson’s scheme.
“You’ve got to cover like a (defensive back), rush like a (defensive end) and tackle and get off blocks like a linebacker,” Lambert said. “Our defensive coordinator, Coach Johnson, has a great scheme and puts me in the best position.”
While the narrow loss at Iowa State hasn’t been easy to stomach, the fifth-year senior said the entire UNI (0-1) defense has moved its attention toward Saturday’s 8 p.m. (CT) road game at Sacramento State (1-0) (ESPN+).
“They’re a great team. Big Sky champions in 2019. It’s going to be a great challenge,” Lambert said. “I believe we’ve just got to focus in, prepare as we usually do and make sure we have our eyes right. As long as we do our jobs it can be a good outcome.”