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This article was published 4/11/2021 (196 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Steven Richardson didn't mince words when praising teammate DeAundre Alford following practice Thursday. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive lineman not only believes Alford, a first-year defensive back, is a good choice for CFL rookie of the year, but that he's the obvious one, too.
"I don't even think it's a competition, to be honest. That’s the rookie of the year for sure, to me," Richardson said. "I don't even think that's biased. He's a great player. He's a great player and that's all I really got to say."
Richardson, who was a rookie himself in 2019, did have more to say. He can recall how difficult the adjustment was to go from playing four-down football in the U.S. to the CFL, and that's why he's been so impressed with Alford.
Not only has Alford been consistent physically, making game-changing plays on the field, Richardson said he's also handled the mental side just as well.
"Honestly, it's hard to put in words, because, obviously, I was a rookie two years ago and so what I've seen from him is consistency. I'm trying to figure out the words, but he’s always growing. He doesn't get into his mind a lot," he said.
"I remember it was Hamilton (in Week 1) and they caught a pass on him and that never got into his mind. That's the main thing that a lot of rookies don't have, is they make a mistake, and they think about that mistake the rest of the game. It’s a new play for him every single game, and that's what makes me so proud to have him back there."
Alford, who turns 24 on Friday, has certainly been one of the more surprising developments for the Bombers. Brought into make up for the holes left by the exit of defensive backs Winston Rose and Marcus Sayles, the Bombers couldn't have asked much more from the Griffin, Ga., native.
Alford has not only handled himself well playing the boundary corner, a position that usually pins him against the other team's top receiver, he's also been able to make significant plays to help the Bombers win games. In 11 games, he has 42 defensive tackles, three interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, and one forced fumble.
Two of those interceptions, including the one returned for a TD, as well as the forced fumble, all came in a 37-22 win over the Edmonton Elks in Week 7. That week, Alford was named one of the league's three top performers.
"I don’t know where that mental strength comes from, but I just know I’m blessed with it," Alford said. "I just know this league is a passing league and every DB is going to get beat, get touchdowns scored on, so you’ve got to have that next play mentality."
When asked what has helped him be so consistent this season on the field, Alford deferred to the play of his teammates. Winnipeg has the top-ranked defence, averaging a league-best 11.5 points against per game, and have allowed just three passing touchdowns to their opponents this year (Montreal is second, with 11).
When pushed, the quiet-yet-confident Alford opened up a bit more about his abilities.
"I’m always a hard worker and just the mindset and mentality that I have is I want to be the greatest to ever play my position," he said. "My teammates have just contributed to my success, and I just want to keep on thanking those guys."
Alford was asked to be a team-first guy this week, with Winnipeg signing CFL all-star Winston Rose to the roster. Rose played boundary corner with the Bombers when they won the Grey Cup in 2019, and his return there means Alford will move to the field corner spot.
"I’m not necessarily going to say it’s a challenge," he said. "It’s more likely just me knowing that things happen faster on boundary side compared to the field side. It should be the same challenges. I’ve just got to continue to make the plays that come my way."
WILLIE THE ENTERTAINER: Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson is one of the most recognizable players in the CFL. He's also the most entertaining, something his teammates certainly like about him.
"Willie’s a leader. He’s one of those rah-rah guys, but he’s going to put his money where his mouth is too," Bombers receiver Nic Demski said. "He’s going to talk a lot, but at the same time he’s going to back it up with his play. Willie always brings energy and he’s one of those leaders in the locker room who does a good job with that."
"Well, I really respect Willie as a player, as a teammate, as a leader. He's pretty well on point all the time," Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea said. Willie is very focused, but I'm sure he understands the value of entertaining the fans. He’s got a good finger on the pulse of what's going on with the team, so he would never sacrifice that for entertainment value."
STOPPING STANBACK: The Bombers face a stiff test this week trying to stop the CFL's leading rusher, Montreal Alouettes running back William Stanback. Stanback leads all running backs in carries (152), yards (960) and runs of more than 20 yards (six). He has three touchdowns, which puts him in a two-way tie for second among tailbacks, three behind Calgary's Ka'Deem Carey.
"I'll say that he's a strong back. But they have like a good scheme, to where their O-line plays like – they play for him. They do a really good job playing for him and letting him do what he needs to do, making the blocks that they need to make," Richardson said. "We have to beat the O-line. Every game starts up front, but this one in particular. You don't get many CFL games where run is going to be first; it’s a passing league, for sure. This is like, not a rare moment, but it's like one of those unique moments where it's like got to stop the run first to shut the team down."
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After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.