Alonso loves Miami's culture
Kiko Alonso says he feels right at home in South Florida.
The Dolphins' casa is Kiko Alonso's casa.
The linebacker of Cuban-Colombian heritage answers affectionately in Spanish to a question on what he likes about the city of Miami and the team, saying he feels completely at home with the large contingent of Latino fans and his teammates:
"Me siento en casa, con todos los fanáticos Latinos y con todos mis compañeros en el equipo."
His comfort level with his teammates and the city was a key part of signing a four-year, $28.9 million contract with the Miami Dolphins.
"Being able to stay in Miami was a dream come true for me," said Alonso, 26.
After injury-plagued stints with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Buffalo Bills, Alonso had a good feeling about Miami as soon as he was traded there last season.
Though he had never lived in the city, he had family members there. His father, Carlos, grew up in nearby Puerto Rico.
"The second I got the call, I was excited," said Alonso, who went on to record two interceptions and 115 combined tackles in 15 games while helping the Dolphins reach the postseason for the first time in eight years.
"It's not easy to make the playoffs, especially starting off 1-4," Alonso said. "A lot of teams could have mailed it in, but we dug deep and it was definitely a great achievement."
On the field and off, Alonso has embraced Miami's culture. While some players might not be pleased about extra media responsibilities, Alonso has been only too happy to practice his conversation skills with local Spanish-language reporters. His parents prioritized keeping all three of their sons bilingual.
"On car rides, or in the house, they'd say, 'OK, we're only speaking Spanish,' " Alonso recalled. "Otherwise, I don't think I would be able to speak it like I do today. Obviously, the more I speak it, the better I get."
Arun Sharma, vice dean and professor of marketing at the University of Miami School of Business Administration, sees Alonso's language skills as an asset for him.
"South Florida is very sports oriented and the Spanish-speaking fans like athletes who can speak in Spanish," Sharma said. "Speaking English and Spanish allows athletes to reach twice the population in Miami compared to when athletes are monolingual."
Alonso will get the chance to practice even more Spanish in an offseason project especially important to him -- a camp in late April he is coordinating with the Puerto Rico American Football Academy.
"Puerto Rico has historically had a Pee-Wee and high school league," said Frank Lopez, PRAFA vice president, noting most people aren't aware of the island's talent in American football. "We're trying to let people know and bring more opportunities to these kids. Our main goal is to be able to help kids get scholarships and opportunities in the United States through the sport of football."
Over 300 participants ranging from age 8 to 16 are already registered for Alonso's camp, as well as a number of coaches.
"We're going to have all the league coaches participate, so that they learn the drills," Lopez said.
"It's run around and hit people. They put me outside, it's fine."Kiko Alonso, Miami Dolphins linebacker
"To be able to do that makes me very happy," Alonso said, gratified that nine of his Dolphins teammates agreed to participate as soon as he asked for their assistance with the camp.
"I didn't have to say anything other than, 'Hey, I'm having a camp in Puerto Rico' and they said, 'Say no more.' "
Alonso is taking more than his Spanish skills and famous NFL friends to the event.
"We're bringing a lot of equipment that is not available [in Puerto Rico] and we're going to be donating it to the different clubs in Puerto Rico so they can start improving their training techniques and we can develop better athletes," Lopez said, mentioning specifically the island is getting its first NFL five-man tackling sled.
"In the long run, we want to set up a football training facility," Alonso said.
Other future plans include working out a visit to Cuba with his parents, trying to convince more of his teammates to embrace Puerto Rican reggaeton music and getting the Dolphins further into the playoffs. One possibility Alonso's not concerned about is a likely position switch on the field this upcoming season.
"Linebacker, inside or out, at the end of the day, it's the same thing," Alonso said. "It's run around and hit people. They put me outside, it's fine."
It's easier to accept changes when one feels positive about a situation.
"There is high correlation between quality of life and happiness of workers," Sharma said.
The contentment Alonso now feels comes partly because he finally has had a chance to show his true talent in Miami.
"The past two years I was dealing with some injuries," Alonso said. "It felt good to go out there and play almost every game and to feel like my body was there 100 percent."
Giving back in Puerto Rico, enjoying life in Miami -- a contract extension with the Dolphins is, as Alonso puts it, "A perfect fit."