HELENA – Alec Basterrechea isn’t known for making up his mind.
The Carroll College junior has already changed his degree three times during his short stay in Helena.
“Right now I’m health science and Spanish,” he said. “Let’s see, I went from secondary education and then, at one time, I was going pre-physical therapy but now I’m stuck with pre-physical assistant right now.”
Basterrechea wouldn’t commit to the PA degree being his final choice, but that’s no surprise if you know the fun-loving and goofy student-athlete.
To Alec Basterrechea, life is all about finding the right fit. As a pee-wee football player, he was a star running back for his father-coach before being swapped to safety during his final two seasons with the Gooding High School Senators. The community makes its living in farming as well as cattle and sheep ranching, and was significant in Basterrechea’s development.
“Gooding, Idaho the small little town with 3,500 people. Pretty small little town but they love football there,” Basterrechea said.
Fans also loved what the hybrid safety-linebacker brought to their Senators. Basterrechea tallied more than 70 tackles his senior season, 11 for loss, with one sack and two each in forced fumbles and interceptions.
Carroll College’s recruiting ties go deep into Idaho with Mike Van Diest, Nick Howlett and Jim Hogan snagging numerous stars from the Gem State over the years – including recent athletes like Dustin Rinker, Dakota Amy and Alex Kastens, who now coaches Basterrechea with the Fighting Saints.
When Van Diest officially offered the small-town defender, Basterrechea barely hesitated.
“There were a couple schools looking at me. I always had Carroll in the back of my head, which I was really dedicated to try and get to Carroll College,” he said. “Carroll was definitely the one that recruited me the hardest so it was great to get that opportunity to come here and play.”
College football is a different animal than many high school programs across the country. While many prep coaches are building winning traditions by creating more disciplined strength workouts, the collegiate game is a more intense dedication.
From the weight room workouts, to speed and conditioning drills, to hours of film study, college football is a full-time job as student-athletes prepare their mind and body for the grueling schedule ahead. Basterrechea caught on quick, though his small town frame needed some serious work.
“I was actually 180 pounds when I was sopping wet so that was about the size I was,” he said. “Pretty small compared to now.”
During his recruiting trip, Carroll coaches tossed passes at and around Basterrechea to test his skills and agility as a safety.
“I was out there on scout team trying to play some safety, getting some reps against guys like (Dakota) Stonehouse, that was pretty fun as a younger guy to play against someone great like that,” he said.
College degrees haven’t been the only thing Alec Basterrechea couldn’t make up his mind on at Carroll College. Just like his educational path, he has swapped football positions three times – though those changes were decisions beyond his reach.
“I was a strong safety and then got moved to linebacker that spring. I don’t know if I gained too much weight, got too fat or if I was just too slow, maybe a combination of all, but they moved me down to the defensive line,” he laughed.
Basterrechea has come a long way from the pee-wee football days in Gooding. After gaining more than 60 pounds since his senior year of high school, the Saints’ coaching staff settled on a position for the former Senator. It’s there in the trenches, lining up at defensive end, Basterrechea has found a home.
Van Diest has produced a bevy of talented defenders over the years and Basterrechea appears to be that next star in the making. Entering the weekend he leads the Frontier Conference in sacks (4.5) and sacks per game (1.1), tackles for loss (8.5) and his 17 total tackles are good for seventh on the team.
Opposing coaches have started putting the Saints’ junior in their game plan, yet he continues to make plays. It’s a trait he says should be credited to those great defenders before him.
“One of the main guys I’ve learned from is Jake Konen, who’s still here obviously, he was my big Saint and stuff,” Basterrechea said. “He’s a big guy that I look up to and learned stuff from. People I learned from on the defensive line would be guys like Sean Condon and Bryan Graupmann and Dakota Amy – those great defensive ends and nose guard that have played here.”
Each of those athletes was a critical piece of Carroll’s game plan. Basterrechea plays off the significant role he has assumed with the 2016 Saints, and is more excited to acknowledge the fun he has with his teammates each Saturday.
“Game day is exciting for me,” he said, a beaming smile spreading across his face. “I love that feeling, coming off my injury (from last year) and being with the team, sharing the experience with these guys that I love, it’s just a great experience to be with these great guys.”
Alec Basterrechea’s days of chasing a secondary education degree seem like a lifetime ago. No matter the work in the classroom, he has established himself as an academic all-conference selection and is a sure lock for all-conference on the field as well.
Carroll fans can only dream of how quickly the junior would have developed as a defensive end had he hit the ground running as a freshman, but Basterrechea believes the transitions have helped him grow into the player he is today.
“I think it helped me learn the defense a little better by knowing the different positions that Coach Van Diest has taught me,” he said. “It definitely grew my football intelligence and IQ pretty well.”
The same sentiment could be echoed for his education track, each revision has brought him closer to where he wants to be. Now, if he can just get people to work on his last name.
“So it’s pronounced Basterrechea,” he said, emphasizing each syllable, “but the best one I’ve heard is from my teammates. They just go with, ‘Chia’ to shorten it. I don’t think any of them actually know how to spell it. Rocky Mountain College actually butchered it pretty well when we were down there. I think the College of Idaho might be a little better at pronouncing my name but we’ll see how that goes.”
Announcers and fans across the Frontier Conference may continue struggling with the pronunciation, but Alec Basterrechea has faith. He more than anyone knows it’s never too late to change.