Aaron Alford: Born to coach
After shoulder surgery ended Aaron Alford’s football career before his junior year at Colorado State University, he was lost.
He had played football his entire life and couldn’t imagine never being able to play again.
That’s when his coach, Sonny Lubick, invited him to become a student coach for the Rams for his last two seasons at CSU.
Alford was hesitant at first, not yet ready to give up on playing again.
"At first it was a pride factor for me," he said. "That’s the big issue athletes face. You start to identify yourself as the football player. You start playing at age eight and then, all of a sudden at age 21, it’s over. The cleats are hung up."
But he eventually gave it a chance, and his life was forever changed.
"I got out there and it was an absolute blast," he said. "I had no intentions of coaching. I had intentions of teaching and maybe coaching high school ball. But once I got that introduction at Colorado State my last year and a half as a student coach I knew (college coaching) was the way I was going."
But now, just a couple weeks shy of his 40th birthday, Alford is changing course again he’ll be opening a branch of the New Beginnings Behavioral Treatment Agency in West Jordan on July 22.
New Beginnings is a center for youths who are having trouble coping with home life.
"A lot of times, youth fall into a situation where being at home or being in a foster care situation isn’t enough support for their mental health situations," Alford said.
Alford’s friend, Cedric Pittman (a former college and NFL player), approached him with the opportunity about a year and a half ago, after Alford had left his position coaching defensive backs at the University of Utah.
Pittman, who serves as the executive director of the Las Vegas branch of New Beginnings, persuaded his old friend to change career paths.
"He said, ‘Well, just think of it as a different version of coaching,’" Alford said. "If I wasn’t going to be in college coaching, I was going to be helping youth in some form or capacity. It’s my God-given talent."
He added that being around youths and seeing them succeed is what makes him the happiest.
"I really, truly enjoy it," he said. "I don’t even think of it as work. Helping youth achieve their goals has always been a passion of mine."
The center, located on the campus of West Ridge Academy (formerly the Utah Boys’ Ranch), will house 14 boys ages 9-17. Alford hopes the treatment center can expand in the future.
"In the future, two big things we want to happen are opening a girls’ facility to service the same population of girls and expand to outpatient care as well."
Though Alford has made a major career change since he found himself on the coaching staff of the Utes’ 31-17 Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama in 2009, he still has football coursing through his veins.
"It never leaves you," he said. "It really comes down to if you don’t have the right job opportunity, you have to move forward. But you always miss it. The thing you miss the most is the time with your athletes and some of those friendships you develop when those guys graduate."
But the break from football has given him time to spend with his family.
"I’m having a blast right now," he said. "The funny thing about college coaching is that there are a lot more pros than there are cons, but you don’t get to see your family a lot. I’ve had a great time this past year and a half being around my kids."
Alford said he’d consider a return to the college coaching ranks if the right opportunity came along, but right now he’s focusing on lower-level football. He’s the safety coordinator for the Park City Youth Miners and will be an assistant coach on Mike Shepherd’s staff at Park City High School this fall.
But, perhaps most importantly, he’s getting to spend some time on the field with his three kids Elijah, Max and Sam.
"For 14 or 15 years, I coached everybody else’s kids," he said. "Since I’m not coaching college ball, I wanted to coach my own."
His three children all play football, basketball and run track.
"I’m a big advocate of playing every sport possible," he said. "I think that makes a better athlete, personally."
On July 1 and 2 at Treasure Mountain Middle School, Alford and Park City Youth Football will be hosting a non-padded football camp from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. each day. The cost is $30. Parents with two or more children attending the camp will only have to pay $20 for each additional child. Walk-up registration will be from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. on July 1.
Alford said the camp is about introducing kids from the Park City and Kamas areas to the game in a relaxed environment.
"A lot of the camps around town are full-padded camps," he said. "We just want to have fun without pads on and teach kids the fundamentals of the game."
He said he’s expecting 50 or more players to attend, but isn’t sure exactly how many will show up because there’s no online registration.
"Every elementary school got the flyers and an email went out to all 32 Ute Conference teams," he said. "If there are only five kids, darn it, we’re going to have the most fun with those five kids. But we expect 50 or more."
Alford has just one message for all the campers.
"Bring your cleats, bring some water and bring a great attitude," he said.
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The Miners ended up on the wrong side of a close game on senior night but are still fighting for playoff seeding.