Photo & Story by Jeff Nunn of CardinalSportsZone.com
The University of Louisville had a player voted to the first team in the first-ever Associated Press preseason football All-American list.
No, it wasn’t the reigning Heisman trophy winner, Lamar Jackson, but rather junior cornerback, Jaire Alexander.
Alexander also was named to Sports Illustrated’s 2017 Preseason All-America Team as well as 247Sports’ Preseason All-American team and the All-ACC preseason team, and was named to numerous preseason watch lists, including the Paul Hornung watch list (most versatile player in major college football), the Jim Thorpe watch list (best defensive back in college football), the Bednarik watch list (college defensive player of the year) and the Nagurski watch list (best collegiate defensive player). Those awards will be handed out after the season.
All those awards and nominations are very impressive for any college athlete but especially impressive for Alexander because he didn’t start playing cornerback until his junior year of high school. He grew up playing wide receiver but made the switch to corner when he transferred high schools. When the Charlotte, N.C., native transferred, his new school already had established wide receivers, but there was a need at corner. So, he moved to the defensive side of the ball and played corner full time but still managed to play wide receiver part-time.
The 5-foot-11-inch, Alexander managed to be the leading receiver in the Charlotte area during his senior year at Rocky River High School. Despite being the state’s most productive two-way player, and being ranked as the fifth best player in the state of North Carolina by Scout.com, he received exactly zero scholarship offers from the from any of the power-conference teams in North Carolina. He was rated as a consensus 3-star athlete and the No. 67 cornerback in the nation by Rivals.com.
The lack of big-time offers and low player ratings didn’t seem to bother Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino, who is known to recruit to what he feels is a good fit for his style of play rather than “expert” rankings or star ratings. Petrino knows talent when he sees it, and so Louisville was the first school to offer Alexander a scholarship
Alexander committed to Charlotte but soon changed his mind when South Carolina came calling.
Alexander comes from a tight family, and they were heavily involved in his college decisions. It was said that Alexander and his parents felt like South Carolina didn’t give Alexander the love he deserved and the coaches couldn’t exactly tell them where their son fit into their plans.
It was time to move on, so they moved on to the University of Louisville where Alexander was only promised a chance to compete for the starting job. He had to earn it.
Alexander enrolled early in January of 2015. In his freshman year, he played in 10 games and recorded 19 total tackles, one interception, and two passes defended He also had 23 punt returns for 223 yards (9.7 yard per return average).
ALEXANDER BY THE NUMBERS
While those statistics are good, they were not good enough for Alexander. He worked very hard in the offseason in the weight room as well as the film room.
In his sophomore season, he burst onto the national scene when he returned a punt for a touchdown versus second-ranked Florida State with ESPN Gameday in the house. He nearly broke off a second touchdown but was tripped up short in his attempt. He told his father, Landis, that “his body locked up preventing him from scoring” on that second punt return.
He later had two amazing interceptions and a forced fumble in another nationally-televised game in Death Valley versus fifth-ranked Clemson. He also had a two interception game vs Virginia. He finished his sophomore season with a team leading five interceptions, nine pass breakups, 39 tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Pro Football Focus (a website that focuses on a thorough analysis to grade every player both college and the NFL) graded Alexander as the No. 1 Power-5 cornerback for the 2016 season.
Entering this season as a junior, expectations of his performance have been raised by everyone, including Alexander himself. He again has worked hard in the off-season and has become faster. He was clocked with a 4.32-second 40-yard dash.
Along with those expectations come talk of skipping his senior year and entering the NFL draft. Alexander is ranked as the No. 19 draft prospect in 2018 by ESPN’s Mel Kiper. Landis praised his son and said that he has remained grounded and focused despite all the awards and attention. He also said if his son is not projected as a first- or second-round pick at the end of the 2017 season, he’ll return to Louisville for his senior year.