The sun was going down.
After the Detroit Lions had a grueling physical practice Tuesday night, most of the players and coaches left the field and headed to the locker room.
But Maurice Alexander — an undrafted rookie — stayed on to get additional work.
We are trying to make the most of this opportunity.
Savor every second.
You can’t help but root for someone like him — a true mogul who worked two years to get to this moment.
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Nine months ago, Alexander was sorting boxes on the night shift at UPS. When the sun came up he went to the local park for training. He chased this crazy dream by running routes against fictional defenders, sometimes without a quarterback.
And now everyone seems to be chasing him. In his first two weeks of the preseason, Alexander leads his NFL in kickoff return yards with 174. His 34.8-yard return average ranks his second, and his 61-yard return against Indianapolis is his third-longest this summer.
“At the end of the day, what we want in the preseason is explosive players,” said Dave Phipp, the Lions’ special teams coach. I was intrigued.
Intriguing — that might be the best way to sum up Alexander.
He performed well in two preseason games with a small sample size. But what will he actually do in his NFL game, will he be better than the other options the Lions have, and can the Lions trust his performance?
The Lions are facing these issues with a handful of players, and they have far more players than last year.
“We’re way ahead of last year,” Lions coach Dan Campbell told reporters on Friday. “We are much more competitive. Talent has been upgraded and it is tough. You can’t trust them against talent, flash players, and it’s — but it’s hard because you know you have the talent to do it when the light hits it. It’s a job we have been given.”
“I’m fast at football”
After Alexander finished his workout, he left the field while the “Hard Knock” crew followed behind him and filmed him and another player. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Alexander was featured in the next episode focused on roster cuts.
whichever it is.
I watched Alexander drilling for several days. He seems to maintain top speed while making cuts, and appears to be going straight ahead with equal speed left and right. Not everyone can do it.
“What about your 40 hours?” I asked him.
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“I never ran a legal 40,” he said.
Yes, it’s funny in and of itself. He has never been to a combine. But it goes on in the story.
“I run fast with my gear on,” he said with a smile. “I’m fast at soccer.”
Alexander may be fast in football, but his road to the NFL is slow.
He played quarterback for Pop Warner until high school.
“I played in three national championships,” he said. “It was two wins and one loss.”
Alexander was an accomplished quarterback in a talented Florida high school, leading Miami’s Booker T. Washington to a state title and being named All-State. He went to the Florida International as a quarterback, playing under coach Butch Davis. He appeared in his 13 games in his first three years and completed a pass completion rate of 54.8% for 787 yards, two touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“My college career has been one of ups and downs,” he said. “I had to adjust a little bit, but it wasn’t as good as my high school career.”
At just 5-foot-10, he didn’t see his future as a quarterback. Therefore, he decided to switch to receiver taking advantage of spring training in 2018.
“I was small at quarterback,” Alexander said. “I went to see Coach Davis and told him I felt I could help the team more at receivers and he was excited about it. I said you can use it and sometimes run wildcat.
“It started from there. All summer I worked on it and perfected my technique. I knew what I wanted from a receiver.”
He began playing as a receiver, recording 40 catches for 474 yards and five touchdowns, returning kicks and punts for the first time in his life, averaging 15.5 yards on kick returns.
“This guy here, he has the ability to make people miss,” said Tim Harris, who coached Alexander in high school and at the FIU. “Then when he straightens up, they haven’t caught him. He’s over the angle.”
friends in high places
After that, everything went wrong.
During his senior season, he broke his ankle while blocking a teammate. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, his school pro day and his NFL scouting his combine have been cancelled.
“It was like a double blow,” said Alexander.
Even if he wasn’t invited to the training camp, he didn’t give up on his dream. He spent his next two years working on his own, hoping the opportunity would present itself.
“He has a chip on his shoulder every day,” Harris said.
To make extra money, he began training local high school football players and working with the son of Florida Senator Marco Rubio, according to Outkick.com.
“He’s basically done,” Rubio told Outkick. “He was training his son on the route. He doesn’t have a car. But now they’re mic’ing him for ‘Hard Knocks.’ “
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According to Outkick, Rubio tried to make Alexander his agent.
“Mr. Rubio was reaching out to some people for me,” Alexander told me.
Alexander is not entirely sure how it happened, but he did receive an invitation to the USFL draft pool.
He was working in high school when the USFL Draft was taking place in February.
“I was working on an intervention,” he said. “It’s kind of like a replacement, but it’s not a replacement.”
He was following the USFL Draft on his phone.
“I’m sitting in the classroom with a draft in progress,” he said. “And then you see the tweet.”
He was taken to the Philadelphia Stars with the penultimate wide receiver selection. (USFL creates a draft for each position group.)
“I was just lucky to be given the chance because I always knew I could play and always knew there was a game to play,” he said.
He had a great year in the USFL, catching 20 passes for 234 yards and scoring two touchdowns in 10 games. However, it was his kickoff his return that drew attention from the NFL. He led the league in kickoff his return yards (787) and kickoff his return average (31.5).
“It worked,” he said. “We’ll end up in the championship game. And it’s been a great opportunity. Great coaches. Great people. Man, I’m so grateful for that league.”
After the USFL season, he worked for the Dallas Cowboys but got no offers.
The Lions invited him to tryouts and signed him to a contract on August 3.
“Thank you to these coaches and this organization for giving me the opportunity to show my talent,” he said. “I knew I could always play at a high level, so I just got the chance.”
He is listed as a wide receiver and is learning the position, but is behind due to missing part of minicamp and training camp.
“I’m just trying to grasp the pieces,” he said. “Pick up everyday things.”
“He has his shot”
It’s such a crazy story.
After two years of self-study and training at UPS, the guy finally got his chance.
But Harris is not surprised.
“He’s from the Florida City area of Miami in the Deep South,” said Harris, now an assistant coach in Central Florida. “Hard-working people. He has a really good family support system, and I think that helps drive him. His mom, dad, stepmother, all his sisters, everyone. They. is very supportive of him, so he always has that backbone and keeps him going even when things go wrong.
“He had a lot of friends who were very athletic, and they had a lot of opportunities, but for some reason they might not have worked out. He’s got his shot and he’s going to finish this thing, his job isn’t done, but it’s not surprising to me at all.”
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.