Melvin Alaeze was in a playful mood earlier this week. The standout defensive end, who will play for Maryland this fall, was getting ready for a practice leading up to tomorrow's Good Samaritan Bowl all-star game when one of his team's assistant coaches suggested that Alaeze might be needed to play on offense.
Perhaps the East team would use the 6-foot-3, 270-pound Alaeze at tight end. Maybe the coaches would use him as a blocking fullback because the team has only three running backs.
Or maybe, Alaeze countered with a smile, if he was going to do the grunt work of blocking, he could get a reward, like getting a carry or two or maybe a pass thrown in his direction in the new all-star game, which matches players from Maryland and the District, with Interstate 95 as the general dividing line for creating the teams.
"When you have an opportunity to enjoy yourself, you want to take advantage of it," Alaeze said. "But the dirty work can be just as fun."
Throughout his career at Randallstown High outside of Baltimore, Alaeze had plenty of fun. As a senior last fall, he had 110 tackles and 181/2 sacks, rushed for 351 yards and caught 17 passes for 257 yards. He rushed for four touchdowns and caught four touchdown passes. He also averaged nearly 40 yards per kick as the Rams' punter.
But it wasn't just the statistics that opened eyes -- it was the way Alaeze accomplished things on the football field, moving around blockers and through open spaces with such ease. By mid-January, when Alaeze decided to play for Maryland, he had scholarship offers from more than 50 schools, including most of the nation's top programs.
And if Alaeze needed more ways to enjoy himself, he found one on the basketball court, scoring the winning basket as time expired in overtime to lift Randallstown to a two-point victory over Bethesda-Chevy Chase in the Maryland 3A championship game.
When Alaeze gets to Maryland, there should be openings at defensive end. With Shawne Merriman in the NFL after his junior year and Kevin Eli having completed his eligibility, he would seem to have a shot at immediate playing time.
"Athletically, he can be anything he wants to be," said Potomac (Md.) Coach Eric Knight, who will coach the East team. "It's what he wants to be. If he wants to be a great player, he'll do everything that the coaches want. He is truly a super talent, there is no question about that. I think he can have a big impact in college."
Alaeze said he plans to spend the summer working out to get in the best possible shape when he reports to Maryland for preseason practice. Alaeze knows he no longer will have the size advantage he enjoyed over most high school opponents, but thinks his speed will be an asset.
"A lot of people might look at my weight and think I'm not fast, but I think I might still have an advantage with my speed," he said. "They'll see me in the backfield and think, 'Oh, it's straight up the middle.' Like I can't run a sweep. Or if I'm playing [defensive] end and they run a sweep, a fast running back might think I can't catch him."
Those are some of the plays that Alaeze enjoys most, when he gets to chase down a ballcarrier.
"I know sometimes if you hit a player a certain way," he said, "a little bit of fear might jump into his heart when he sees you coming at him again."