Interview: Ricky Ali’ifua on making the Chiefs and family life

Oct 16, 2015; Logan, UT, USA; Boise State Broncos quarterback Brett Rypien (4) fumbles the ball forced by Utah State Aggies defensive end Ricky Ali'ifua (95) at Romney Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 16, 2015; Logan, UT, USA; Boise State Broncos quarterback Brett Rypien (4) fumbles the ball forced by Utah State Aggies defensive end Ricky Ali'ifua (95) at Romney Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports /
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Kansas City Chiefs DT Ricky Ali’ifua talks with us about being a tryout player and how he’s giving the NFL one good shot.

It’s hard to tell who is likely more surprised at this stage: Ricky Ali’ifua or the Kansas City Chiefs.

Ali’ifua was one of nearly 70 players to try out for the Chiefs at the team’s rookie minicamp, and he was impressive enough to earn a contract out of it, one of a handful of players to ink a roster spot out of the dozens of options. For Ali’ifua, it was a lifelong dream come true from a team who he had never heard from during the entire pre-draft season.

If the Chiefs had Ali’ifua on their radar for long, they’ve made a big secret of it. Even still, the Chiefs are lucky they even had a chance to bring in Ali’ifua, since their minicamp schedule is the only reason he gave K.C. the first and only chance. Ali’ifua and his wife decided to give the NFL one good shot and then he was prepared to walk away with a nice job offer already waiting for him in Arizona. Fortunately, the planets aligned and the Chiefs have a hidden gem whose explosiveness off the line might keep him in K.C. for some time.

There’s a lot to discuss but I’d love to start with how you feel when someone says that you’re officially a member of the Kansas City Chiefs now?

It’s completely shocking and surprising but also very humbling, especially coming into the rookie camp as a tryout. I thought that every single guy that was in our d-line group was capable of being in this position where I’m at now. I love that the coaches saw something in me that they’d like to develop and see a bit more of. So I’m very humbled, surprised and excited above all else.

It’s still really hard to believe that I am in the NFL. It’s something every kid dreams of, and I’ve definitely had plenty of those dreams. Getting closer and closer to this moment made it seem so close and yet so far. Now that I was finally able to sign on with the Chiefs, a great organization that I’ve learned a lot about in terms of its owner and rich history, I’m extremely excited to compete for this opportunity and fight my way onto a roster and play on Sundays.

You mentioned those childhood dreams. How far back does that go for you?

Oh, man, I couldn’t even tell you to be honest. I don’t remember the first time I had the thought of, “Oh, I want to be an NFL player.” It was mostly just growing up in a very athletic family where everyone played multiple sports. I remember watching SportsCenter all the time with my brothers and my dad. I don’t know if there was a single moment where I knew I wanted to play in the NFL, but I always knew I wanted to play some kind of professional sport. As time went on, in high school I decided to focus completely on one sport, which was football. I actually didn’t play football until my junior year of high school. So when I got my offer from Utah State, that’s when I thought, “Okay, it’s going to be the NFL or no professional sports for me.”

Why wait until your junior year?

To be honest, immaturity. I was the youngest person in my class and graduated when I was 17. That means coming into high school as a 13-year-old, I didn’t have good grades and was very undisciplined and immature. I was very unseasoned and I had a lot of growing up to do. I was never able to qualify academically. My junior year came around and I started taking things a bit more serious and I was able to finally qualify. My junior year was my first year of playing high school football.

I was never able to play when I was younger, because I was way too big. They had a weight limit thing, so I was either too young for the weight class that I fit or too heavy for my own age class. My dad decided we would wait, but then I had to wait longer than I wanted, mainly because I wasn’t very focused and disciplined in school.

Most NFL prospects are single and can chase this dream without worry about anything else. However, I know you have a wife and a son. Does that affect how much you’re able to chase this dream?

My wife is probably one of my biggest supporters. It was difficult for us to decide whether or not we wanted to chase this dream, because it was real issue. There’s no predictability in this business, based on what I’ve learned so far. Anything could happen at any moment, whether it be from your end or the organization’s end. So this was something we had to discuss together, especially because we have a two-year-old son. We have to think about him first. We sat down and thought about what we wanted in life and our short and long-term goals.

More than anything, my wife didn’t want me to regret not trying. Moving forward, we decided to give it our very best shot. If we do that and it doesn’t work out, then we can walk away knowing that I did my very best to make the NFL and it didn’t work out and that’s okay. But to live with those thoughts of what could happen or should have happened would have eaten at me. I’m grateful for my wife for talking me into trying out.

Our original plan was that we’d try our very best and if it didn’t work out the first time, we were ready to move on. I have a great job opportunity in Arizona that would allow me to jumpstart my career, so we were ready to move on. We’re not going to chase this dream very long. But now we have this great opportunity on the first go-around. I’ll definitely give it my best shot and whatever happens, happens. If I make the team, it’s wonderful, a dream come true. If not, then we had a great experience in the NFL already and we’re ready to move forward.

What was it like waiting on the call after the draft? And did you know it would be the Chiefs?

To be honest, I’d only heard from a few teams. I know the Denver Broncos were definitely a forerunner. They were the first ones to contact me immediately after pro day. I spoke with them very consistently on a weekly basis and then as we got closer to the draft, it was almost on a daily basis. It was looking like they were either going to pick me up in the seventh round or sign me as a priority free agent. However, it turns out that one of the d-tackles they assumed would be drafted ended up going undrafted, so they picked him up instead of me. He has a little more size than I do.

When I got the invitation from the Chiefs, I was really surprised, because I hadn’t talked to them at all. It was a complete shock that they wanted me in the first place. The Titans had called me. The Saints had called me. I had invitations from the Colts and Chargers, too. But the Chiefs worked out perfectly because it was the soonest camp I was able to attend. We were going to give all of these teams a shot and my best look, but what a shocker that the first team that I go is the one that recognizes something in me that they were interested in. [Laughs]

It was pretty crazy and I’m still thinking about it now. I keep talking about it with my wife and I didn’t get very much sleep last night because it’s all surreal to me that I really am in this position that I always dreamed of being in.

Did the Chiefs give you feedback on what they liked?

They didn’t give me specific details, but I can tell from Coach Reid, the d-line coach, that he was impressed by my explosiveness. I’ve always prided myself on that. I feel it’s my number one asset in that I am explosive off the line of scrimmage. I can come up out of my stance faster than most is what I believe. I’m sure there are a few other factors as to why they chose me out of everybody, but for the most part, from the feedback I got and the film room with Coach Reid, it was definitely my explosiveness and being able to come out of my stance with a lot of power and speed.

How did they use you during camp?

For most of camp, I was defensive tackle lined up as a 3-technique. He’d mentioned to me at the beginning of camp that he would like me to learn all three positions just in case, so that’s exactly what I did. From what we went over and what we learned of the playbook in camp, I’m comfortable with all of those positions. Now being able to execute those things will be something I’ll see about a little bit later. As of now, they’ve only used me as a 3-technique.

I’d love to give you a chance to tell us a bit more about you and the person you are away from the game. I know you have a family. What else are you passionate about?

First and foremost, I’m a very religious person. I believe in God and Jesus Christ completely and wholeheartedly. I grew up LDS and served an LDS mission. That was a two-year mission where I was able to go out and preach the word of God to different people. My favorite thing to do when I’m away from football is to play with my son. He really is the light of my life, and he pushes me to do everything that I am doing right now. When I’m tired on the field, I try to keep a fresh picture of his face on my mind and it keeps pushing me to move forward.

I’m a great table tennis player. You can tell by my use of the word table tennis. I don’t play ping-pong. [Laughs] I take that very seriously. I love to play in the pool with my son. I love music and come from a musically-oriented family. I’m a fairly good singer, which is surprising to most. [Laughs] I just love very good company, good friends who I really don’t consider friends but brothers, and then family. That’s always been number one and it always will be.