Tony Alford couldn't help but laugh.
He had just been prompted with a question about Ohio State star running back Ezekiel Elliott Thursday following the team's seventh practice of the spring. The reporter was curious if making the switch from Notre Dame to the defending national champion Buckeyes was made easier knowing he had a bonafide Heisman Trophy candidate like Elliott waiting in the wings.
"I don't know — is it pretty easy to drive a Lexus? From driving a Volkswagen?" Alford chortled. "No, that's not true. I'm not saying I'm driving a Volkswagen, someone don't take that bad."
The scrum surrounding Alford — the first time he was made available to the Columbus media since taking over for Stan Drayton in early February — lasted more than 35 minutes. His comment about foreign cars, though, stood out above everything else.
Alford by no means intended for Elliott to look like a lap of luxury compared to the Notre Dame running backs he tutored last season. His goal was to compare Elliott to one of the nicer brand of vehicles the planet has to offer — because that's how the running back looked when he was ravaging defense at the end of last season.
"What did I see? What did you see? I saw the same you thing you saw, 'Whoa,'" Alford said of Elliott, who ripped apart Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon for 696 yards and eight touchdowns in the postseason.
While Alford was impressed with what Elliott did with the ball in his hand — his only healthy hand, no less — like any good position coach he was more wowed with what he did without it.
"Watch Zeke Elliott play when he doesn’t have the football, that’s the key component for me when you start watching the guy is how competitive is he, how tough is he?" Alford said of his new toy. "Listen, you can give me the ball — I’m 46 years old and fat — you give me the ball I’ll run as fast as I can, as hard as I can because I’ve got the ball in my hands. But what am I doing when I don’t have it? Am I running 20 yards down the field throwing a block for a guy they threw to the back side receiver?
"When you watch his intensity of how he performs without the ball in his hands, that to me is probably the most impressive thing about him."
Elliott said all last season he prides himself on finishing plays even when he doesn't get the ball, an inclination he relishes from his days as a fullback.
"What did I see? What did you see? I saw the same you thing you saw, 'Whoa.'"– Tony Alford on Ezekiel Elliott
"Watch him play without the ball; some of his best plays you could say are plays he makes without the ball,” left tackle Taylor Decker said of Elliott in January. "He kind of has an offensive lineman's mindset but he plays running back."
Alford sees that, too, so even though Elliott isn't full-go in spring practice, his new position coach is fully aware of what he brings to the table in all phases.
"The one thing you love about Zeke is he’s hungry, he wants to play. It’s killing him not to play now," Alford said. "He’s a high-energy guy as you guys all know and for me it’s cool because I recruited him out of high school. I’ve known him a long time so it’s great to be around those guys.”
And while Alford is bound to face challenges that come with taking a new job, having Elliott back at 100 percent is sure to alleviate some of the stress and cause for more laughs in the future.
"It helps to come in and have great players around and some guys that really understand how to work but I've been very fortunate in my career," Alford said. "Everywhere I've been I've had some guys that really work hard and the game's important to them. But coming into this situation, it's a great situation for me personally."