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Cal Football

Cal Tight End Alftin's Been Around the Block

November 8, 2021

Few players can say they’ve blocked two punts in one season yet Cal junior tight end Nick Alftin has accomplished just that, coming through with blocks against Washington State and Oregon State in just the first eight games of the season.

Alftin’s block against the Beavers in the second half of a tight game provided a big boost that helped preserve the Bears’ narrow lead on on the way to an upset 39-25 victory the prior weekend in Berkeley.

“The second one was a pressure (rush),” said Alftin. “We ran a pressure on the first one and I kind

Alftin celebrates block vs OSU

of got a read for how they were playing it. I changed my stance up and fixed my technique to adjust to how they were lined up and had a really good get-off. So did Myles Jernigan and Ray (Woodie). We all got good penetration and  pressure which gave us a really good opportunity to

get a hand low. My had was real low and was in the right spot at the right time and we executed the program like Coach Ragle told us and taught us to do.

“Coach Ragle’s my guy. I feel like that’s what we have at Cal -coaches who are great guys who work really hard and teach us well. They're smart guys who know how to run things and not have ego battles. Everyone is equal and has a voice in the program.”

Special teams isn't just a throw-in responsibility for Alftin. You could even say it’s special to him.

“The first time I stepped on campus, I told Coach Ragle, ‘I want to play special teams.’ I played special teams in high school and blocked a punt. I know how much it means to be on special teams.

“I started on kickoff team my freshman year and just kind of worked my way into it. It's grown since then to the point where I'm a Corps 4 special teams player, which is pretty cool.”

You could say that Alftin’s been around the block, literally and physically during his high school and college athletic career, including a successful volleyball career at Archbishop Mitty, where he was a standout frontline player with explosive vertical leaping ability seldom shown in defensive ends.

”In high school, I played quarterback but one week our defensive end got hurt and I told my coach I wanted to play there, too,” said Alftin. “He said, ‘Yeah, we could use a defensive end,’ so I switched to defensive end as a sophomore and the rest was history.

“I loved defensive end and was good at it, and when I got here to Cal, we ran a 3-4 so they wanted me at outside linebacker since I was kind of athletic. Then when (frosh TE) McCallan Castles transferred to go to UC Davis, we were low on tight ends. We didn't have any scout looks given to our defense by our tight end group. It was hard. So Coach Wilcox said, ‘Hey, we need tight ends.’ I straight up told him, however I can help the team, wherever I’m needed, I’m happy and willing to go.

“The next day I was in the tight end room. And then later, we had injuries at outside linebacker and I was starting at Ole Miss (where he had a tackle for loss in the Bears' win in 2019). We got healthy at outside linebacker so I went back to tight end. Pretty much the rest is history.

“I’ve been getting some run plays, some special teams. I’m just trying to help the team out any way possible. I really love all these guys and the character they bring every day. Just with hard work, smart guys, caring. It means a lot to me and I want to give back in any way possible, whether it's hard work or a good block or a tackle or anything.”

Alftin has had the benefit of stellar leadership from of older players in the program throughout his time at Cal, like senior tight ends Jake Tonges, Gaving Reinwald and Collin Moore -something he's appreciated and emulated over the years.

“It's cool because I've been in so many strong leadership groups, like with Tevin Paul, Cam Goode, Alex Funches in the outside linebacker room, so I've seen really good leadership,” said Alftin. "And these guys (Tonges Reinwald and Moore) portray the best leadership I've seen at Cal, making sure the guys do things the right way, whether it's a mess-up on a play -do it right the next play and get back there with a clear head and learn from your mistakes.

“They do it the right way. Their leadership skills are something to look up to and something I'd hope to be one day, just like them in their leadership position.”

The junior tight end has also been impressed by what he's seen from frosh tight ends Keleki Latu and Jermaine Terry since their arrival on campus. Latu picked up his first career catch on his first collegiate reception earlier this season and Terry picked up his first catch in the Bears’ win over Oregon State -likely to be the first of many for the talented first year players.

“Super hard-working,” said Alftin of the frosh duo. "They're in there early morning and leaving late at night, whether it's film, treatment, getting an extra lift in after practice when they've already had a lift in the morning, working on their block technique, catching balls, going over the playbook. They're on top of it, trying to get better every day. And that’s brought by the leadership in our room and by the dudes we have in our room. When you see it done the right way and that the older guys are going out and being successful on the field with what they're doing in their blocks and route running, you look up to  them and want to do it yourself.

“When I came in with that group with Tevin Paul, Alex Funches and Cam Goode, I looked after that work ethic and how they were doing things the right way and not taking the easy way out or not watching film or not going over the playbook and going, ‘I'll be fine.’ No, it was getting that extra work and just doing it the right way.”

A former NFL tight ends coach, first year Cal TE coach Geep Chryst sees a lot of aspects in Alftin’s personality and style of play he’d like to see more of in the program.

“When I got here this spring, everyone had a lot of love for his personality and for how much he loves football,” said tight ends coach Geep Chryst. “He’s been nothing but great when you ask him to do the little things, especially on the blocking side of the tight end stuff. 

“From the early spring practices all the way up through the season, it doesn’t surprise me that would do something like be a great kickoff cover guy or a great punt coverage guy or blocker. It’s kind of those unsung roles that a team has where you don’t sometimes notice someone till they block a punt or make a great play. But he's been doing it since the moment I got here.

“What he does is he pours everything he has into each individual play. I think that’s what makes him a good blocker. You look at his frame and stature and he’s one of our bigger tight ends, both in terms of his height and weight (6-5/250) but what really makes him an effective blocker is his length. He can get out and punch and extend and when you’re getting after down linemen, he can really engulf them. Sometimes a bigger stature guy doesn’t move so well as a receiver but Nick’s got this great work ethic that every time we catch a ball, whether it’s a 2-yard run or a 10-yard run, he finishes with the ball in the end zone with a big grin on his face.”

“Coach Chryst is very transparent with everything," said Alftin. “He's really smart and straight to the point so nothing's really confusing and there’s no grey area. Everything's very black and white and he communicates with us very well.

“He brings a great perspective, since he's coached so many people in the pros so you’ll hear some interesting stories from him. He's a reallly, really nice guy who really cares about all his guys. Plays, play calls, technique -he's straight to the point because he knows what he's doing and how to do it the right way. It makes playing football so much easier and a lot more fun because you have such a great coach to guide you through playing the game.

“I’ve been so lucky to have these coaches. In high school, my coach was Keith Burns, who coached with the Raiders. He taught me to play the game the right way and I thank him every time I call him for teaching me to play the game the right way and that when I step on the field, there's an attitude you have to have.”

Altin had a bit of a preview of what the life of a student athlete at Cal was like, albeit from the

Former Cal volleyball player Christine Alftin

perspective of another sport, with his sister Christine.

“Her experience here was great," said Alftin. She loved it here. If she had a bad experience, I would’ve looked at Cal a little differently, maybe not have been so excited. But I was fully on board, excited to come, largely because my sister had just a great experience here.”

Having not only one but two of their kids earn scholarships to a prestigious university like Cal was particularly impactful for their parents, who didn't have the opportunities their kids have today. Their father Per, however was able to go on to build a successful general contractor business in Palo Alto and Atherton, despite his humble beginings. And their mother Jenine more than had her hands full raising five kids, as well.

“It was especially meaningful for my parents because we're first generation college students in my family," said Alftin. “Our parents didn't go to college. My dad's from Sweden. He come over here with nothing from Bollnäs, Sweden (three hours North of Stockholm) when he was 18. My mom had nothing when she was younger. So it’s really cool for them to see how far we have come and they have come, as well.”

Though his family didn't have a football background, Altin did inherit a love for the slopes from his father.

"My dad was a junior national skier in Sweden when he was younger so I grew up skiing and snowboarding a lot. I usually got in like 40 days a year when I was in middle school and high school. My dad used to ride his little mountain bike to the slopes when he was a kid with his skiis strapped to the bike and they'd have to walk up the slopes because they dind't have any ski lifts. I'm at a skill level where I don’t think I’ll get hurt and I'm just having fun, not trying to do anything crazy so I still like to get out there when I can with my dad and brothers.”

Alftin’s commitment and reputation with the team earned him the honor of being a team captain in the Bears’ last game in their win over Oregon State -a fitting tribute to a player who will do whatever is in his power to get the Bears back on track.

Other stories:

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Bears DT Took the Long Way to Cal

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Cal Tight End Alftin's Been Around the Block

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