‘I can keep it up’: returner Mario Alford continues to give Riders the zip they need

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Saskatchewan Roughriders’ return specialist Mario Alford has been a dash of hope for the Green and White since the CFL veteran was traded to the team after Week 5.

The five-foot-nine, 182-pound speedster has scored three return touchdowns starting with a 112-yard missed field goal return touchdown in Week 7. He has since scored on a 98-yard kick return in Week 10 and a 92-yard kick return in last week’s game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

“I just got a knack for it, I believe,” explained Alford to the media after Tuesday’s practice. “A thing you can’t coach, you can’t coach a guy how to run, where to run, where to see the hole, it’s just one of them things I got a knack for.”

The 30-year-old only needs a punt return touchdown to score in all three phases of special teams on the year. He believes he can do better with punt returns if he runs more vertically initially and then lets the rest “play out itself.”

“It’s always a good start when you can you can do that,” said Alford. “Special teams put points on the board too, that’s always a good thing for any team, so it’s good, and I just want to continue making it happen.”

Is it coincidence or fate that the Greenville, Ga. native wears the same number as Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductee Henry ‘Gizmo’ Williams? The East Carolina product played 14 seasons with the Edmonton Football Team and established himself as the best returner in CFL history.

Alford was unaware that Williams also wore No. 2 on his jersey, but knows of him as a “great returner,” which indeed he was.

In 149 career regular season games, Williams returned 26 punts for touchdowns, including five in one season to set a CFL record. He also returned three kickoffs and two missed field goals for touchdowns while catching 21 touchdown passes as a receiver.

Alford said it feels “pretty good’ to be asked about a Hall of Famer, but can’t go without crediting his teammates for his successes so far this season.

“I’m just trying to show this league and the world what I’m capable of,” said Alford, adding he believes he is “hands down” the best returner in the league.

“It’s just in me man,” laughed Alford. “I can keep it up and I just got that mindset, so long as I’m healthy and I’m good to go, I keep doing what I’m doing.”

Prior to joining the Riders, Alford spent some time playing in the NFL before making his CFL debut with the Toronto Argonauts in 2018. In six games he earned seven catches for 57 yards and returned eight kickoffs for 170 yards.

In September 2019, the American joined the Montreal Alouettes and played nine games with the team over two seasons. He returned 26 punts for 486 yards and three touchdowns as well as nine kickoffs for 477 yards.

Alford’s 2021 season was cut short with the Als, however as he suffered a season-ending fractured ankle after only five games. So far this season, Alford’s physical health has not been holding him back in Riderville.

Olivia Lawrence is a University of Regina School of Journalism graduate who covers the Saskatchewan Roughriders for 3DownNation.