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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Linebacker Alford to reunite with family, friends in Baton Rouge”

    James Alford
    James Alford

    To many members of the Arizona football team, tomorrow’s matchup at No. 8 Louisiana State shapes up to be the toughest away contest of their careers.

    But to James Alford, it’ll be a long-awaited home game.

    Alford’s family was among the thousands that relocated to Baton Rouge, La., LSU’s home city, after Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast in August last year.

    When the redshirt sophomore linebacker takes the field at Tiger Stadium, he’ll be watched by more than 30 of his relatives and friends, all of whom he’s pictured in his thoughts over the past year.

    “”The toughest part about it was, I wasn’t just worried about my parents, I was worried about everybody,”” Alford said. “”It was tough to see a place I’ve grown to love – 16 years of my life I lived down there – all wiped away. It was tough, but a year later, it looks like things are coming around in some sort.””

    Alford grew up on the east side of New Orleans, which fell smack-dab into Katrina’s ruinous path.

    His family’s home was completely decimated, forcing a move 80 miles west and resulting in a period of several days when Alford couldn’t get in contact with his parents.

    Looking back, he said, he remains thankful that his main losses ended up being material.

    “”My friends, relatives, as far as I know, we came out on top,”” he said. “”That’s the thing about people down there. There’s a lot of pride. We might have lost everything, but you can’t take away their will and their courage.””

    Alford had plenty of time to ponder his tragedy last season, as he saw time almost exclusively on special teams, but the gravity of the situation rarely showed on the field.

    Arizona special teams coordinator Joe Robinson said the team openly supported Alford through his struggles but that he didn’t notice many changes in Alford’s demeanor.

    “”I think he’s handled it very well,”” Robinson said. “”I know he knows a lot of people that had problems down there, but he’s showed up to work every day with the same work ethic that he always has.””

    Alford said he expects the trip this weekend to be difficult, but mostly because of the Wildcats’ time restraints.

    The team will arrive in Baton Rouge today and leave within hours of the game’s conclusion, leaving little time for him to catch up with high school friends and LSU players Craig Davis and Jacob Hester.

    “”It’s a business trip, but I’m going to try to enjoy it,”” Alford said. “”I’ll enjoy it even more if we win.””

    Robinson, an LSU alumnus, has made a few forays back to the area since the hurricane pushed his wife’s family to uproot from Bogalusa, an hour north of New Orleans.

    Although he has also has friends among the Tigers, Robinson said the team’s focus this week has been on downplaying the hype surrounding the game, including any personal implications after Katrina.

    “”When the lights come on, it’s back to football,”” Alford said. “”I’ve lived there. I used to go up and check out the games and whatnot at LSU, so I’m over that whole part. … When it comes down to it, they’ve got their 11 guys, we’ve got our 11, and we feel like, one more day away, we’re going to be ready to go.””

    Alford said his family should be ready to move back to New Orleans by Christmas, although he isn’t sure if he’ll be there to join them.

    “”I got plans to be in a bowl game around that time,”” he said, chuckling, “”but sometime around the New Year, I’ll return home. It’ll be nice.””

    In the meantime, Alford will get a chance to reconcile what might have been the two biggest loads on his shoulders: concentrating on football and keeping his thoughts from wandering 1,300 miles away.

    “”I remember exactly when it happened, he was very devastated by it,”” redshirt freshman linebacker Xavier Kelley said. “”This right here, this is very big for him.

    “”Like a resurrection.””

    -Additional reporting by Ryan Casey

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