Max Alford the latest homegrown product primed for a breakout season with USU

A year ago, it was Ike Larsen.
The then-redshirt freshman safety was the breakout star for Utah State in 2022.
Despite starting only four games — he played in 11 — Larsen led the Aggies in both interceptions (four) and blocked kicks (three), while adding 33 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss and two pass breakups.
“I think this year is a matter of me just become more of a linebacker, and understanding things conceptually. I think I’ve got the athleticism ... but I think it’s just more about me just being able to feel and play naturally.” — BYU linebacker Max Alford
It was enough to get Larsen named a College Football News honorable mention freshman All-American, not to mention a second-team All-Mountain West selection.
Fast forward to the present day and another Utahn appears primed for a breakout season with the Aggies — linebacker Max Alford.
A former standout at Park City High, Alford played a great deal for the Aggies last season, particularly after MJ Tafisi suffered an injury that proved season-ending.
Alford finished the year with 40 tackles, including four tackles for loss, proving a capable fill-in at linebacker.
Now, though, entering his second season in Logan, Alford is expected to be more than just a regular contributor for the Aggies, with projections listing him as a starting linebacker alongside Tafisi, taking the role vacated by AJ Vongphachanh, who transferred to BYU.
Alford’s prep football career makes that idea, at first, seem somewhat farfetched.
While at Park City, Alford was a standout running back, never a defender.
As a junior in 2020 with the Miners, the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Alford was named first-team all-state and all-region after running for 1,020 yards and nine touchdowns on 98 carries, while adding 30 receptions for 448 yards and two touchdowns.
A three-star recruit — recruited by a combination of Mountain West and Big Sky programs, per 247 Sports — Alford had no experience with defense when he arrived at Utah State and was expected to be something of a long-term project. Especially since he suffered a season-ending injury early on during his senior season at Park City.
His development took off in a hurry, though, first in fall camp when he became one of the Aggies’ key playmakers on special teams, and then more so when the Aggies needed him to fill in for Tafisi.
“Coming into last year Max never played one snap of defense in high school, then all of a sudden when MJ goes down, he becomes our starting Mike linebacker, which was invaluable for him,” USU linebackers coach Mike Zuckerman said in a media release.
Now, Alford is one of the Aggie defenders making the biggest strides.
“He (Alford) is one of the guys over there that are starting to step in and take some some good roles,” said head coach Blake Anderson.
Added Zimmerman: “Now he’s learning how to be a defensive player and his potential is through the roof, and he’s starting to realize that. He wants to know everything. He’s a guy who’s gotten better every single day of camp and I’m excited to see what he can do on the field this year.”
Alford understands the position he is in is unique.
“This is only my second year ever playing defense in my life,” he said.
For him, fall camp and the upcoming 2023 season is an opportunity to build the type of instincts needed for him to become a great linebacker at Utah State and not have to rely so much on his natural athleticism.
“I think this year is a matter of me just become more of a linebacker, and understanding things conceptually,” he said. “I think I’ve got the athleticism ... but I think it’s just more about me just being able to feel and play naturally.”
Of course, his natural athleticism has made Alford capable of playing multiple positions on defense, a point of emphasis in defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen’s scheme.
“Part of Joe’s problem over the next couple weeks is to figure out who are the best 11 and who can play multiple positions,” Anderson said. “That’s it, that’s a real challenge right now for them (in defense).”
Which means Alford has a chance to see the field early and often for the Aggies this season, sometimes at linebacker, other times as a pass rusher.
“He (Cauthen) talks about guys being able to have to play multiple roles,” Alford said. “Just in case. And you got to show him where your value is. Like if you’re good at rushing, he says, ‘We’ll find a way to get you to rush.’ So I think you just got to be able to play multiple positions for everyone’s (benefit). And I think that’s what will give us an edge.”
Listen to him talk and it becomes clear that Alford quietly relishes the fact that he doesn’t have the resume that a traditional college linebacker would have.
He is an underdog because of it, and he believes that all Aggies are underdogs. So it fits.
“Coming from Utah State, we’re always gonna be the underdogs,” he said. “... I think we’re always going to have that chip. That’s what I think that’s what makes us a good team is that we always got the chip on our shoulder. We got the grit.”

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