NC State fifth-year senior Johnathan Alston still loves to get his hands on the ball, but now it will have to be at cornerback instead of wide receiver.
The 6-0, 200-pound Alston was a standout two-way prospect at Bunn (N.C.) High, but his heart was always at wide receiver. He caught 39 passes for 391 yards and three touchdowns his first three years at NC State, but his true calling might be at cornerback.
Alston made the switch during the spring of 2016 and redshirted this past year. He missed some time due to health issues last fall, but was still named the Special Teams Scout Team Player of the Year.
“It feels good to be back because sitting out a whole year is tough,” Alston said. “I changed my positions. Last year, I redshirted and got my feet wet.
“I’m not going to complain about anything. I’ll get better at the position and then things will work out for me.”
The spring gave him a chance to see where he stacks up, and talk a little junk with his old buddies that remain at receiver. Sometimes he’ll try to get into their head and throw off the wide receivers by letting them know they ran a route wrong or something else he would know from being one of them.
Alston was listed at right cornerback behind senior returning starter Mike Stevens. Cornerbacks coach George Barlow has been preaching him to have a short memory over mistakes at his new position.
“I’m ready to play with the big dogs now,” Alston said. “Being out here with your brothers and stuff competing is fun.”
Alston is used to exploding forward at wide receiver, so doing a back pedal has been the biggest adjustment to playing cornerback.
“You have to read different keys,” Alston said. “You have to be able to make open field tackles, which isn’t easy, but practice makes it better.”
Alston has played some with the first-string guys as part of a cornerback rotation. He hopes to be an immediate contributor next fall and doesn’t want to hear as much about his “potential.”
“Sitting out last year, just watching, see us lose a couple of games, it hurt,” Alston said. “I really want to be out there making a difference.
“Results are results. Coach always tells me that potential isn’t a good thing. You have to go on the field and show them and work.”
Getting back on the field will give Alston a chance for his fans in the Bunn area to watch him again. Redshirting put him in the “out of sight, out of mind” category, but he’s OK with that, for now.
“That is every day because I have always been slept on,” Alston said. “It’s all good.”
Alston half-joked that he feels like he’s been at NC State “10 years” in pursuing his dream at getting a degree, but admits the football component has flown by fast.
“I’ll be graduating in December in interdisciplinary studies,” Alston said. “Getting that degree will be very big. I’ll be the first one in my family to get a college degree. I’ll be making my momma proud.”
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