“It still really hasn’t hit me yet, that I’m considered a professional athlete”

There is no formal presentation of some sort of framed certificate. No medals or participation ribbons are awarded.

Heck, the way DeAundre Alford looked at it, he’d just keep his head down and as long as no one contacted him on cutdown day last Friday, he would report for work with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers the next day.

“Technically no one told me (he had made the team),” began the Bombers rookie defensive back during a media Zoom call on Sunday. “We just knew that if you didn’t hear anything back from Matt (Gulakow, Director of Football Operations) and the staff you kinda were good. I didn’t hear anything from any of those guys and a couple of my peers, the people who aren’t here, I saw them leaving. I was kind of like, ‘Ok, I’m still here.’ But no one just actually told me, ‘You made the team.’

“I’m not going to lie… I was just in my room and I had my phone on mute. Whenever I got an alert I didn’t even want to look down. I’m still here. I’m blessed.”

And so when Alford punched the clock for practice on Sunday he had officially made the jump from college athlete to professional. Not only that, even though head coach Mike O’Shea won’t confirm his starting lineup until the day before Thursday’s Canadian Football League 2021 season opener against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at IG Field, there was Alford working alongside Deatrick Nichols in the Bombers’ revamped secondary.

“It still really hasn’t hit me yet, that I’m considered a professional athlete,” Alford said. “I’m very humbled. I know there’s a lot of guys out there that want to be in my position.

“It still hasn’t really settled in, that I’m actually here because every day I have the mindset to keep competing and getting better. You never know. I’m blessed, man. I’m really blessed. Coming where I’m from, Griffin, Georgia… we’ve got a lot of talent but a lot of players don’t make it out. I accomplished that. I’m part of that one percent.”

Alford, at just 23, is the youngest player currently on the Bombers roster, joining Noah Hallett and Brady Oliveira as a trio born in 1997.

His backstory is interesting, as he concentrated primarily on basketball through high school and only started playing football in his senior year. Recruited to Jacksonville State, he followed his coach Jerry Odom to Tusculum when the boss took a new job at the Tennessee school. Alford was a D2CCA All-Region First Team and an All-South Atlantic Conference First Team All-Star in 2019, but when the pandemic hit in 2020, his opportunities to get an NFL look evaporated.

“My agent just hit me up one day and said, ‘Winnipeg Blue Bombers are very interested in you and they want to talk to you,’” said Alford. “It went from there. I guess it was my film and my game play… I had posted a highlight tape and it kind of went viral over social media. They found me through my agent.”

Alford used the term ‘blessed’ several times during his media session on Sunday and there’s a sense, especially given the road he’s travelled to get here, that he will take nothing for granted. That was obvious long before he arrived in camp, as he kept in contact with safety Brandon Alexander and has constantly hit up the vets with questions.

“I’m itching to play,” he said. “I want to show everyone what I’m capable of and what I can do, and also to help this program.

“It feels good to know I come from a small school. A lot of guys on the team don’t even know where Tusculum University is, so it just made me want to go harder, just being around a lot guys that come from Division I football or Power-5 schools. That makes it feel even better, coming from a small school.

“It’s been a real crazy journey. Once again, I feel so blessed to be able what I love to do with the ability I was blessed with. I always knew I was athletic and I could play any sport. Whatever I put my mind to I feel like I can achieve. Once I started playing football I had my mind on becoming a professional athlete and I’m here now.”

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