Max Alford was expected to be a standout at linebacker for Utah State football this season.
That was the word coming out of spring camp, summer workouts and fall camp.
Said USU linebackers coach Mike Zimmerman during fall camp: “(Alford) is 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 being on the field at any point this season is now in question.
The former Park City Miner suffered a knee injury on the first play from scrimmage in Saturday’s season-opener against the Iowa Hawkeyes, left the game with help and never returned to action.
Utah State went on to lose to Iowa 24-14, and per head coach Blake Anderson, Alford’s injury could add some insult to the loss.
“It is too early to tell on how he is doing,” Anderson said following the game. “Knee injury, don’t know the significant of it yet. We will wait and see. But he clearly could not come back today.”
Anderson later added: “I hate it for Max. He is a huge contributor and a great leader.”
Alford isn’t a stranger to serious knee injuries. Early in his senior season in high school Alford tore his ACL and missed the remainder of the year, before enrolling at Utah State and developing into one of the Aggies’ best defenders.
The loss of Alford would be a major blow for Utah State, given he was expected to form an elite linebacking duo with MJ Tafisi.
Still, Anderson and Tafisi noted that the linebackers who relieved Alford against Iowa — Gavin Barthiel and Bronson Olevao — fared well despite not expecting to see significant playing time. At least after making some significant mistakes in the first quarter.
“We threw guys in on the field that really weren’t expected to play a whole lot,” Anderson said. “We had some mistakes. We gave up a couple big plays, I think just out of the inexperience. Those guys — talking about Gavin and Bronson — seemed to settle down and play much better late, after that first quarter.”
Barthiel in particular made some notable plays, before leaving the game with an injury himself, including a sack of Iowa quarterback Cade McNamara.
Alford was the only significant injury that Aggies suffered against the Hawkeyes, as far as Anderson knew.
“We got out of it relatively healthy, otherwise,” he said. “Nothing else was brought to my attention that was a concern. I would think that we’d be sore and beat up, just with the nature of that game. With how physical it was. But the only significant, potentially long-term injury (incurred against Iowa) would be Max.”