Although the Colorado football team came up a win short of a bowl game, Antonio Alfano watched the Buffaloes during the final month of the 2019 season and got excited.
“I felt like they came alive a little bit,” Alfano said. “They were coming from all angles, hitting the quarterback all different ways. I do think (head coach Mel) Tucker will correct (errors). He’s bringing that SEC mind frame to the Pac-12. I definitely think that we have a bright future.”
Alfano is excited to be a part of Colorado’s future, as the most highly anticipated addition in more than a decade.
This month, Alfano has been settling into his Boulder apartment and spending time visiting his girlfriend in Vail, but next month he will enroll at CU and begin the next chapter of his life – a chapter that nobody saw coming just a few months ago.
Alfano, who grew up in New Jersey, completed his high school career a year ago and was rated by 247Sports.com as the No. 1 recruit in the country for the class of 2019. As top-ranked, five-star recruits often do, he signed with Alabama.
Alfano spent the spring semester at Alabama and had two sacks in the Crimson Tide spring game. Midway through fall camp, he got an emotional boost when his grandmother, Victoria Richardson, visited him in Tuscaloosa.
“When I was eating lunch with her, there was a specific moment when I grabbed her hand and I told her, ‘I just want you to be there for when I get drafted,’” Alfano said.
Later that day, Richardson flew home to New Jersey.
“I get the call at 5 in the morning the next day that she had a massive stroke and she’s in a coma,” Alfano said.
Alfano wasn’t entirely pleased with football at that time anyway, but his grandmother’s health made it difficult to focus on the game.
“It was just a trying time for me being down there,” he said. “I was kind of also a little frustrated, honestly, with not seeing as much playing time as I would like. I was a little frustrated with that and stuff going on back home. That just made my decision easier.”
Alfano left Alabama in September and entered the NCAA transfer portal in October.
“One of the first schools to contact me was CU, and it was actually coach Tucker,” Alfano said. “It was kind of like a like a no-brainer. There’s no other coach that I have as good of a relationship with than coach Tucker. When I was a sophomore in high school, he was at Georgia. I just remember him always talking to me. I was calling him because I always thought he was a really cool guy, real down to earth.”
Earlier this month, CU signed 16 high school seniors and three junior college players to national letters of intent as Tucker continues rebuilding the roster going into his second year in Boulder. The recruiting class is shaping up to be CU’s best in a decade, but it is Alfano that headlines the list of newcomers.
In fact, Alfano is the most highly anticipated newcomer to CU since five-star running back Darrell Scott signed out of high school in 2008.
Considering CU’s lack of success – one bowl appearance in 12 years – and Alfano’s enormous potential, he will carry a load of expectations with him to the field.
“Dude, honestly, the more (expectations) the better,” Alfano said. “I like having pressure on me because you know that when you’re waking up every day at 5 in the morning going to workouts and you really don’t want to do it, you kind of just think about how many people are looking forward to watching you play on Saturdays. And not only that, I know I’ve got my parents back home and my whole family back home rooting for me now. That’s a big motivator all in itself. I take everything that comes with (the expectations).”
At this point, Alfano doesn’t even know if he’ll be able to play in 2020. He has to request a waiver from the NCAA to become eligible next year.
“I’m mentally prepared for anything, honestly,” he said. “If I’m able to play next year, that’s fantastic, I would love that. If I’m not, that’s a whole year for me to learn the whole system and get even stronger and faster than I already am right now, and right now I’m in the best shape of my life. If that’s the case, then I pray for Pac-12 offenses the year after that.”
At 6-foot-5, 280 pounds, Alfano is physically intimidating and he has “been working out every day.” According to Alfano, he bench presses around 450 pounds, squats in the mid-600s and has been running miles around the track to build up his stamina as he acclimates to the altitude.
Even without Alfano, the Buffs’ defensive line is projected to be a strength in 2020. Mustafa Johnson, who had a dominating sophomore season in 2018, will be a senior and ready to prove himself again after an injury-plagued junior year. Nose tackle Jalen Sami and end Terrance Lang both flashed their dominant potential throughout the year, and the Buffs are loaded with young talent up front, as well.
Alfano can play anywhere on the line and potentially at outside linebacker.
“That’s also why I’m really excited, because their plan for me is to move me everywhere,” said Alfano, who added that he will wear No. 9 with the Buffs.
While Alfano was drawn to CU because of Tucker, his first meeting with Buffs’ defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh blew him away. The meeting was supposed to be an hour and wound up taking about three hours.
“It was just us (talking) and drawing up plays and going back and forth,” Alfano said. “We just got along really well and I really enjoyed that. I felt like I learned more from coach (Brumbaugh) in that meeting than I learned the whole year at Alabama.”
Alfano is eager to apply those lessons to the field, especially in the Pac-12.
“The Pac-12 is a passing league; they’re not run-heavy like SEC teams are and my specialty is I get after the passer,” said Alfano, who had 10 sacks as a senior at Colonia (N.J.) High School. “That’s what I was known for high school. That’s what everyone knew me for at Alabama is getting after the quarterback, and that’s really what I want to do.”
Whenever he does hit the field for the Buffs, motivation won’t be an issue and that lunch with his grandmother won’t soon be forgotten. Richardson died on Nov. 29 at age 82 and Alfano has been even more driven since then.
“She was there for me my whole entire life up until up until this point, but she lived a full life,” he said. “Now that she passed away, it just makes me go even harder because I know she’s up there and I’ve got something to do for her.”