Alford, Tyler ready for Atlanta homecoming

Alford, Tyler ready for Atlanta homecoming

Mario Alford would act scenarios like this out in his head every day when he was growing up.

Back when he was with his friends - making each one miss and blowing past them with ease - he would fantasize of the day when he would get to do those things on a big stage with large crowds of people watching and awaiting his next move, wondering when he was going to break off a big play and get into the end zone.

That's the way it goes for a lot of kids growing up in Atlanta. But as Alford and WVU safety Jeremy Tyler, another native of the area, know all too well, not everyone is lucky enough to get to know that feeling.

So when the two of them get to go back to Atlanta this weekend to play in front of their family and friends with No. 2 Alabama on the other side of the field and hundreds of thousands of people watching in the stands and at home on television, it's another reminder of how far they have gotten to come since those early days when it was just a game on the playground or in their yards.

"All we ever did was play football and dream of getting to the point where I have the chances I do now," Alford said. "We didn't have nice rec centers or anything like that. All we could do was go outside with our ball and our dreams.

"We just grew up trying to make something out of nothing."

Alford grew up in Greenville, Ga., a city with a shade less than 1,000 people living in it, while Tyler resided in Lithonia.

There was the threat of violence and drugs from an early age, as both players saw friends and classmates slip into the bad habits of being around the wrong people. For the two current Mountaineers, though, they had good examples to look at that were able to help them stay focused on what they needed to do in order to accomplish what they were hoping to do.

"Everything wasn't always good. Some people didn't have much and thought they needed to do some things and run around with people they shouldn't be because they thought it would benefit themselves," Tyler said. "There was a lot of ignorance, people being young and dumb and not knowing the consequences of their actions. I watched it all happen, and I'm glad I never got into it. I just focused in and stayed the course."

Both come from big families, Tyler's one of four kids and Alford is the youngest of 14 in his family. They have been able to use the examples set by their parents, seeing their perseverance and the values they had growing up.

They knew when it was time to buckle down and focus and not worry about any outside distractions that had been able to get in the way of the success for a lot of other kids they were growing up with at the time.

"They've been through their struggles, but they hold their own and kept working through everything," Tyler said of his parents. "Knowing that and having them there for me helped me grow as a man. Just seeing them be strong, it helps me remember that anything I have to deal with or any adversity I go through, I can make it."

Now that the two of them are in the position they're in, now that they've made it to the highest level of college football and are closer than they have ever been to the ultimate goal of making it to the next level, they know they are being looked at more intently.

They know there are kids in Greenville or Lithonia who are the same as they were not long ago, dreaming of the day when they'll be on the big stage. And when they see Alford and Tyler out there at the Georgia Dome Saturday, they'll get to see that it's possible for them to get there too.

"Coming from nothing, you always have that goal in mind and I just feel like if I can do it, anybody there can do it," Alford said. "There are kids in Atlanta or Greenville or anywhere going through the same things I had to go through and wanting to have the same chances I've gotten.

"It makes you play harder. You're thankful for it, you realize that this isn't something to take for granted."

For now, with just a couple of days leading up to that game and the start of the season, all they can do is wait and imagine what it's going to be like to run out on that field in a West Virginia uniform in the city that raised them and made them the people they are today.

"It's going to be unreal," Tyler said. "I can't wait to show them what I've got. That is my hometown and I just want to be out there and show I'm ready for it."

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