stayed strong in the face of a fierce two-sport recruiting crush, surveying his options before deciding to stay down in the Delta, where he knew could pursue his dual-sport passions of playing quarterback in the fall and roaming center field in the spring.
Perhaps unless Petal's senior standout becomes his school's only first-round pick in June's Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Alford will be taking his prodigious two-sport talents less than 20 minutes west on Route 11 to Southern Mississippi, where former Panthers football coach Steve Buckley just joined the Conference USA school's staff as the assistant head coach.
Ultimately, this pledge led the Petal (Miss.)
star to pick the Golden Eagles over LSU and Ole Miss.
"I'm going to Southern Miss to play both sports," Alford said. "Other colleges, they say what they really want you to hear. I've seen a lot of kids get screwed over. I know I won't miss any baseball during the spring."
Going to Southern Miss as the crown jewel in its football recruiting class – he is ranked 24th in the class of 2012, the Golden Eagles' only Top 200 recruit – offers some inherent advantages. For one, Buckley provides a sense of familiarity from when they teamed up to lead Petal to its first Mississippi Class 6A title-game appearance in December. Alford scored 44 touchdowns and accounted for 3,789 yards of offense, leading CBS Sports Network recruiting expert Tom Lemming to say, "If he sticks with football he certainly shows the ability to become an All-American at the college level."
Another factor worth noting: Alford is tight with Petal teammate Garren Berry
, a junior catcher/corner infielder who is also the son of Southern Miss baseball coach Scott Berry.
"They've got some close ties there," said Larry Watkins, Petal's 32nd-year coach. "They laid it out: during football, you play football, and during baseball, you play baseball."
A MaxPreps Preseason All-American
who is rated 44th among our Top 100 players
, Alford has already been watched by a parade of scouts, cross-checkers and general managers passing through Petal. Despite a touch of shoulder tendinitis that prompted Watkins to use his star as the Panthers' designated hitter through the two-time defending Class 6A squad's first 11 games, the senior has excelled despite several key losses from the 2011 title team: He is batting .441 (15-for-34) with 12 runs scored, four doubles, four stolen bases, five runs batted in and a .537 on-base percentage.
"He can do anything. He can play anything," Watkins said. "He's explosive running and has explosive power. And his instincts are great. He knows how to play the game. He's got great fundamentals, a great background. It's not just taking a great athlete and sticking him out on the baseball field; he knows how to play."
This could lead to an interesting decision come June. While there is the security of a two-sport scholarship already in hand, Alford could become an instant millionaire if a big league team is undeterred by his college commitment and selects him among the Top 30 picks.
Previously, Petal has had one sandwich pick between the first and second rounds (Tootie Myers, Montreal Expos, 1997), and three second-round selections: Bill Lott (Los Angeles Dodgers, 1989), Gary Hust (Oakland Athletics, 1990) and Nate Rolison (Florida Marlins, 1995). Of them, only Rolison appeared in a Major League game.
"He'll have a decision he'll have to make," Watkins said. "It'll be a good choice either way he goes."
Alford is steadfast in his focus, saying without hesitation, "I'm focused on getting back to Jackson and winning another state championship. In June, when that times comes, I'll handle it then."
Beyond providing leadership to a young, yet promising, Petal squad seeking a state three-peat, Alford sets an example outside the athletic arena within his small city of 10,454. Following the lead of his civic-minded favorite athletes, Derek Jeter and Kurt Warner, the senior and Ge'Monee Brown conducted a February youth football clinic. Afterward, they donated more than $300 to 3-year-old McKenna Hawkins, the daughter of Petal defensive coordinator Jody Hawkins, who is batting Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
"I try to set a good example for younger kids in the community," Alford said. "I don't only want to be remembered by my athletic ability and (for) playing football and baseball. I want to be remembered for my character."
But Petal will also remember Alford for his prodigious talents playing quarterback in the fall and roaming center field in the spring. Unless he signs with a Major League team, it is balancing act he will bring to Southern Miss this summer.