Miami Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso is making quite the mark in the world of professional football. After four seasons in the NFL, Alonso, 26, was recently rewarded for his hard work with a three-year contract extension worth $29 million with $18.5 million in guarantees. He'll remain in South Florida through the 2020 season and this contract makes him the highest paid Latino defensive player in the league.
"I was very excited, happy for the moment," he told NBC Latino.
Alonso spoke about his professional football journey, his upbringing and how he's come up with a way to spread his love of the game to the next generation of young Hispanics.
Alonso's Miami Dolphins contract is well deserved; the Massachusetts native overcame some adversity early in his career to get to this point. He said family has played a big role in his life. His mother is Colombian and his father is Cuban but raised in Puerto Rico.
"It was great growing up with that culture," Alonso said about his family. "My family is my biggest inspiration. I want to make them proud; they drive me every day to be better."
After playing college football at Oregon (where he won three Pac-12 Championships and the Fiesta Bowl during his senior year in 2012), Alonso was selected in the second round (46th overall) by the Buffalo Bills in the 2013 NFL Draft. During his rookie year the Bills finished with a 6-10 record.
Alonso was named Defensive Rookie of the Month for the month of September, and at season's end was named Pro Football Weekly Defensive Rookie of the Year as he navigated the rough patches of starting out at the NFL. Alonso takes only positive experiences from his first pro season.
"That year was a great learning experience as I was able to learn from some great players," he said.
His sophomore campaign in 2014 would unfortunately go unfulfilled as he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee as he was preparing for training camp. Instead of taking the field, surgery and rehab would occupy Alonso's time that year.
He says it was a challenging time in his life.
"Recovering was a long, grueling process that challenges you mentally and physically," Alonso said about the rehabilitation process.
2015 was a year of change for Alonso; he was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. Recovered from his knee injury, Alonso was in 11 games for the Eagles where he racked up 30 tackles, one interception and a pass deflection. It was a welcome return to the field after a one-year absence.
"It felt great to get back on field; I learned a lot from the year with the Eagles," Alonso said about his time in Philadelphia.
Last year would see another change of scenery for the 6-foot, 3-inch linebacker. But it was the change that put him in the position he's in today. In March of 2016 he was traded to his current team, the Miami Dolphins. During the 2016 season Alonso had 69 tackles, two interceptions (one of them was returned for a touchdown), and four pass breakups.
His efforts helped lead the Dolphins to their first playoff appearance since 2008.
It was also Alonso's first career postseason appearance. He hopes it's the start of many playoff appearances to come. "Making the playoffs was amazing, very hard to do. It was a great team accomplishment but we're not satisfied. Every year is a new year, we're looking forward to this one coming."
Alonso said he was very happy calling South Florida home. "I was very excited [about the move] because I love Miami and I love the people. I enjoy being in a place where I'm close to family," said Alonso, referring to Miami's proximity to Latin America; he has relatives in Puerto Rico and Colombia.
"Also, being in a place where there is so much Latino culture is great," he said.
Alonso wanted to give back to the community; he started a nonprofit organization, the Puerto Rico American Football Academy, to spread the game to the Caribbean island.
"We're excited to be hosting our first youth football camp in Puerto Rico on April 22," Alonso said. He said his plan is to keep doing camps in Latino areas to help the kids with their football careers.
"I think that although it isn't the primary sport in Latino areas, it is still played by a great number of kids. I believe through spreading awareness through camps it will increase the popularity of the sport and help kids with their football careers."
Alonso said he is proud to play a part in spreading his passion for football.
"I think it's great for Latinos around the world and just great for the sport in general."