MOBILE, Ala. — Ever since he signed with the Southeastern Louisiana football program in 2008, Robert Alford has been fighting the stereotype that the little guys can’t play with the big boys.
Alford may have changed that thinking once and for all, at least for Southeastern, at the Senior Bowl this week.
“That’s the word I’ve been hearing ever since I’ve been at Southeastern,” he said.
Already projected as a third-round draft pick by NFLDraftScout.com, Alford’s other goal this week was to try to improve his draft stock for coaches and scouts in the workouts leading up to Saturday’s game in Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
A 5-foot-10, 186-pound cornerback, Alford is only the second Southeastern player to be invited to the Senior Bowl, the other being All-American linebacker Ronnie Hornsby in 1970.
“It feels real good,” said Alford, a former Hammond High School standout. “I’m truly blessed to be here. I have a chance to play and show my skills. I’m just glad to be a Lion, and I’m here to represent them.”
Alford is also expected to be the first player from SLU to be drafted since the school brought back the sport in 2003, something else that motivated him during daily practice sessions this week.
“I’m just trying to put the doubters to shame,” he said. “There’s a lot of things the scouts thought I couldn’t do. So I’m just blessed to be out here and have a chance.”
While he is a member of the South squad that is being coached by the Detroit Lions’ staff, Alford is getting a good look from all 32 NFL teams — which will only help him going into the scouting combine next month.
“I just wanted to go out there trying to show them that I can play and compete with the big schools,” he said. “I’ve heard that a lot since I was at Southeastern, that I couldn’t compete with them. So it’s all about showing your talent.”
An All-Southland Conference first-team selection this season, Alford, who has 4.43 speed in the 40-yard dash, had four interceptions in 2012 after collecting five as a junior to get on the NFL radar.
“I just have to relax this week because I feel like I’m supposed to be out here,” Alford said. “A lot of people said I couldn’t compete out here, but I felt all the time that I could.”
At the same time, he said he doesn’t feel any added pressure to help put Southeastern football on the map, especially with his coaches and his teammates behind him.
“Before practice (Monday), I got a couple of calls from coaches and players,” he said. “They told me to show up for the Lion nation.
“This has been a dream ever since I stepped foot on campus,” said Alford, currently the 10th-ranked cornerback by NFLDraftScout.com. “I wanted to make it my agenda to get to the Senior Bowl and showcase my talents out here.”
Even though he’s projected as a third-round pick in the April draft, Alford said he’s not taking anything for granted.
He’s talked about it a lot with his brother, Fred Booker, who played cornerback at LSU from 1997-2000 and was with the New Orleans Saints in 2004 and ’05.
“Fred played in the league, and he told me they put grades on there that don’t mean anything,” Alford said. “They could have you (projected) in the sixth round, and then you get drafted in the second round. He said to not look at things like that and just go out and show my talent to the scouts.”
Alford said his strengths are his speed and technique and his weakness is that he didn’t compete with the athletes from the big schools.
Then again, he hopes that perception changed this week.
“I feel like I belong out here,” he said.