The legend of Kiko Alonso began on a dusty Texas baseball diamond, where he smacked 10 fence-clearing home runs — in tee-ball.
It continued during his days in California high school football, where he (legally) tattooed a quarterback so hard, it nearly started a brawl between his teammates and a member of the chain gang — who happened to be the quarterback’s dad.
And yet, the legend of Kiko Alonso — Miami’s newest, and probably best linebacker — nearly ended in shame at the University of Oregon.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“Remind him that I saved his freaking job, that he owes me some money,” said Nick Aliotti, Oregon’s then-defensive coordinator who recruited Alonso out of Los Gatos (Calif.) High. “He was going to get kicked off the team. He was done. He wasn’t suspended. He was kicked off. Like I normally do, I put my neck out there.”
Added Aliotti: “I went into [former Oregon coach Chip Kelly’s] office and said ‘This is not a bad kid. He made a dumb mistake, but he made a mistake that I have probably made in college.’ ”
Kelly ultimately relented, but not before suspending Alonso for the entire 2010 season.
Fast-forward six years, and Alonso’s wild days are behind him, confidants insist.
The the only thing that can now derail the legend of Kiko Alonso is a troublesome left knee.
Alonso — traded by the Eagles to the Dolphins along with cornerback Byron Maxwell nearly two weeks ago — has already proved that, when healthy, he can wreck a game at any level of football.
Kiko to me is like a heat-seeking missile — see ball, hit ball. He did that in high school. He did that in Oregon. He did that in his first year in Buffalo.
Former Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti
But when he wrecked his knee the summer after a breakout rookie season with the Buffalo Bills, tearing his ACL while training over the summer. He missed the entire 2014 season, and then suffered a setback after being traded to the Eagles in 2015.
Alonso’s friends say he’s finally healthy again and looks like the Kiko of old. The Dolphins would be happy if he’s simply 90 percent of the player he was in 2013, when he was the Pro Football Writers Association’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Knee injuries have been a curse for the Alonso Brothers, the hyper-athletic, hyper-competitive progeny of Carlos Alonso — the Cuban-born, Puerto Rico-raised computer engineer whose first love was baseball.
Kiko’s older brother, Carlos Alonso III, caught the baseball bug like their dad. He went pro in 2010 and has made it as high as Double A in the Philadelphia Phillies’ farm system.
In a sickening coincidence, the younger Carlos’ promising 2015 season ended prematurely. The reason? A torn ACL.
“ACL stands for Alonso Cruciate Ligament,” their dad joked recently.
Kiko Alonso probably could have had a baseball career too, if he wanted it. The signs were there early, first in Texas tee-ball, and then later in California youth leagues.
But nothing gave him the thrill of football, where he starred for longtime Los Gatos coach Butch Cattolico.
“He was a very quiet kid; didn’t say three words,” Cattolico said. “But he was a tremendous football player. … He was one of the few kids I coached that I said could have a future to play on Sundays. He was that dominant.
“When he hit people, they went in the other direction in a hurry.”
Like the quarterback of Milpitas High in a league championship game. Alonso lit the young man up as he tried to scramble during one ill-advised play.
“The kids on the [Los Gatos] sidelines went crazy,” Cattolico said. “The guy who was holding the chains was the kid’s father. He got up, started yelling at the kids. He was ready to fight everyone on the sidelines. The poor quarterback wasn’t able to play the rest of the game.”
When Alonso returned to the sidelines, a big grin was on his face. “You’re always causing trouble,” his coach told him with a chuckle.
Alonso’s response: “He shouldn’t have tried to run.”
That type of controlled violence impressed Aliotti, who recruited Alonso to Oregon.
“Kiko to me is like a heat-seeking missile — see ball, hit ball,” Aliotti said. “He did that in high school. He did that in Oregon. He did that in his first year in Buffalo.”
Alonso’s coming-out party in college was in the 2012 Rose Bowl, where he picked off Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson and tallied 2 1/2 tackles for loss, winning the game’s MVP award.
Scouts believed Alonso was the most talented linebacker in the 2013 NFL draft class, more so than even Manti Te’o, who went eight spots before Alonso because of the latter’s off-field red flags.
A rundown of his run-ins with the law:
One early February morning in 2010, Eugene, Oregon, cops cited Alonso for DUI outside a 7-Eleven. Kelly, who already faced pressure to take a stand over other player arrests, wanted him gone. And he probably would have been had Aliotti not intervened.
Instead, he was suspended for the entire upcoming season. But Alonso couldn’t stay out of trouble.
The next spring, he was arrested and charged with burglary and trespassing after mistakenly busting down the wrong door late one night. The Ducks suspended Alonso again, and this time, he got the message. Alonso hasn’t gotten into trouble since.
His personal life, by all appearances, is in order. And word is, after two lost seasons his legendary fitness is coming back too. Alonso insisted recently that his knee issues are “all behind me.”
“If he plays anything like he played in Buffalo, he’s going to be great,” the elder Alonso said.
Said Kiko: “I have all the confidence in the world in me. I know what I’m capable of, and I’m just looking forward to getting down to Miami and having a great year.”
Maybe better than great.
Perhaps even legendary.