- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Tony Alford grabbed his phone three different times last week before catching himself. He could no longer call the man he had wanted to speak with, the 39-year-old younger brother he would talk to almost every day. Aaron Alford had died Aug. 12 because of a blood clot.
And while Tony was again reminded of the hole now missing in his life and in the lives of those Aaron had touched, the Notre Dame running backs and slot receivers coach's return to work for what will be his fifth season with the Irish has reminded him of the strong support system he has. And just how badly he wants to carry on in his brother's memory.
"Adversity introduces a man to himself," Tony said. "This is my situation I'm going through, but everybody has something. Every single person in this world has something going on in their lives and this just happens to be mine at this juncture. And my mom and dad raised us a certain way, and I know my brother would say, 'Get your tail back to work.' It is what it is. Doesn't mean I don't think about him all the time. I miss him.
"The sun's going to come up the next day, as it has and will continue to," he added. "That doesn't mean I don't miss him, doesn't mean I don't think about him. But I've got three children to raise myself. Anything that I can do moving forward to help with my three nephews out there in Park City (Utah), I'm going to do that, too. And that's what he would do, too."
Tony, who is also Notre Dame's recruiting coordinator, credited the Irish's staff, administrators and players for their heartfelt support, calling the program members second to none and saying he has learned to not let a day go by without letting people know he cares about them.
Many also used Twitter to reach out to Tony, who took the time to respond to hundreds of individual wishes during his six days away from campus to tend to his family.
Tony called Aaron a selfless person, saying he had a habit of delivering positive messages to everyone he met, something Tony hopes can live on through those Aaron knew.
Aaron was an assistant coach and athletic director at Park City High School and a former assistant at seven different colleges, including Colorado State, where both he and Tony played. The brothers were able to coach against each other in 2010 when Aaron, then the running backs coach at Utah, came to Notre Dame Stadium with the Utes and lost 28-3.
That memory has not been lost on big brother as the excitement of another season approaches.
"Are you kidding me? We play in a week, right? Yeah, I'm excited," Tony said of this campaign. "Don't get me wrong, I love my brother. That doesn't mean I don't want to play and win and compete. That's what we do. Remember, a few years ago we played against my brother and beat the mess out of him, and that was a good thing. But oh yeah, it's time to go play ball."
2hSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information