Nick Alfieri: Unicorn

The question has plagued early-20-somethings since the dawn of time: after college, what? You are qualified, cultured, and finally credentialed – the world is at your fingertips – it’s a state of incredible potential, laden with uncertainty. Should you embrace your youth and follow your passion? Should you buckle down and get a job? Nick Alfieri did both. He became a Unicorn.

It started routinely enough. He played college football at Georgetown University, where he studied hard and stood out on the field. Nick was named team captain as a senior and is still the third all-time leading tackler in Hoya history. After graduating, he entered the prestigious film school at USC as a graduate student. A year in grad school made him antsy. Though he had a great time in southern California, exploring his artistic inclinations, he desperately missed playing football. He still had what many post-career athletes refer to as “the itch” – he wasn’t quite ready to be done.

Enter the Unicorn. The NFL wasn’t knocking down his door, so Alfieri took his talents overseas. All the way to Germany. Nick is now the starting middle linebacker for the Schwabisch Hall Unicorns. You may not heard of them, but the Germans have. The ‘Corns won the German League National Championship last year, and finished as the top ranked team in all of Europe.

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Their success is unquestioned, but Nick insists that it’s all about the experience. Schwabisch Hall is a town of approximately 39,000, located in southern Germany and founded prior to 1280. It’s an ancient city, by American standards, and the architecture reflects its rich history. Subscribe to Nick’s YouTube channel to see more of the town, and catch glimpses into the life of an American football player in Europe.

He notes that it is the passion of the locals that has invigorated his love for the game. Though there are a few Americans who have taken similar leaps of faith following their collegiate careers, the bulk of the American football rosters in Europe are comprised of Europeans. Americans are distinguished from the rest, wearing green letter As on their jerseys and helmets, since a team is only allowed 3 on the field at any given time. Nick’s teammates do not go through the grind of a football season for money or fame, they do it because they love to play.

Oftentimes, our behaviors match our motivations. In this way the modern sports landscape, especially at the professional and top-tier college level, can be disheartening. It seems as though many are more concerned about their next contract than their teams. And there’s no judgement from our end, football is a rough game and a player has every right – a duty, even – to take care of himself and his family. It’s his job. His livelihood. But that’s exactly the point. When the game becomes a profession, it changes.

The Unicorns play for each other, and for the love of the game. It’s refreshing in its purity. It’s how sports were meant to be – how football was meant to be – and Nick Alfieri is living it, tucked into an ancient city replete with Gothic architecture lining the River Kocher, and schnitzel on every corner.

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Whatever happens next, Nick says he has had experiences over the past few years which have opened up the world in a variety of ways. He has seen the world, made connections, and colored his worldview to a point where the idea of “outcome” is clearly second to the process of exploring, of living his best life.

Recently, Nick took over the story on our Instagram feed and gave the Good Athlete Project family some sound advice: “in order to be successful long term you have to fall in love with the process.” He went on to acknowledge that “every single game is precious. Every single game is an opportunity to improve.” It’s an approach we subscribe to fully. It works for us, and it works for the Unicorns, who are currently undefeated and heading back to the German National Championship game.

If you read this soon enough, clink this link to stream the championship game between the Schwabisch Hall Unicorns and the Frankfurt Universe. It’ll be epic.

And be sure to check out Nick on social media and on his YouTube channel. Though he’s still not sure what he wants to do with his “real life”, what happens up until that point is a story you won’t want to miss.

 

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Alabama adds another top prospect: Sports Medicine Fellow Dr. Aloiya Earl

During the month of August, in the muggy Alabama heat, Nick Saban grants his players one opportunity to acknowledge the obvious: it’s hot. After that, the athlete must make one of two decisions: find a way to change the late-summer climate, or find a way to effectively deal with the heat. Repeatedly complaining about the weather never got anyone closer to their goal.

That sort of championship-caliber mindset is a staple in Coach Saban’s program, and it’s one of the things that drew Dr. Aloyia Earl to Tuscaloosa.

Dr. Earl earned her BS in Exercise Science from the University of South Carolina, then her MD from the University of Toledo. She excelled in a variety of professional roles, including Resident Physician at the Ohio State University, before swapping Scarlet for Crimson.

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While Coach Saban and his staff focus on performance between the sidelines, Aloiya’s work focuses on what’s going on between an athlete’s ears. Her research focuses on an athlete’s mindset when returning to play after injury.

The body incurs regular stresses and strains which make injury an inseparable part of athletic participation. It’s part of the game. It’s part of all games, especially football. The ability to physically and psychologically rebound from those injuries can make or break a season. In 2017, linebackers Mack Wilson, Christian Miller, and Terrell Lewis all sat at one point due to injury. Their performance in the National Championship game against Georgia accounted for 20 total tackles, 4 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks. Were it not for their return, the Tide’s sixth Saban-era championship might have been even more challenging.

Those who work in Sports Medicine have the opportunity to impact an athlete’s physical recovery and, given the time spent with athletes, their mental preparation during return-to-play protocol.

That is exactly where Dr. Earl’s work comes in.

She draws from her own experience as a cross-country runner at South Carolina, where she suffered multiple stress fractures over the course of her career. Each time, she built the mental resolve to push aside pain to pursue her goals. During her research, she noticed that many were going through similar journeys. Many more will report fearing re-injury when their time to return approaches. Aloyia’s research hopes to better understand that fear in order to identify the role of sports medicine providers in its alleviation.

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While at Ohio State, she began to identify opportunities during the athlete’s rehabilitation process wherein the Sports Medicine staff can support the athlete in self-efficacy, as well as athletic performance. She will now be fine tuning those methods in the halls and on the sidelines in Tuscaloosa.

In a recent interview, she said “I could not be more excited to be working here. The athletes here have an incredibly passionate group of trainers, coaches, and physicians working to keep them healthy and performing well, and I’m honored to be a part of it. Every day is exciting. It’s a privilege to serve such talented and driven athletes.”

Championship mindset has always been a part of the Saban-era Tide, and Aloiya seems to be bringing a new and important wrinkle to the discussion.

One more way the Tide continues to roll.