It wasn’t until recently – call it a byproduct of a global pandemic – that Brandon Alexander took any time to look back on his career and reflect.
He wasn’t ever really interested in doing the rearview mirror thing, but instead chose to fix his eyes on the road ahead.
But given he was away from the game for a year with the cancellation of the 2020 Canadian Football League season, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive back had that much more cause to revisit his road travelled. That path includes being a walk-on at the University of Central Florida to a guy constantly jumping the line to get extra reps – first at a Blue Bombers free agent camp in Florida to the following training camp – to then transforming into one of the most respected voices in Winnipeg’s locker room.
“I’ve never been a person to look back at anything I did – that can have some positives and negatives to it,” said Alexander on Monday, not long after his one-year contract extension with the Bombers was announced. “But last year forced me to do that, look back a lot at what I’ve done, what has happened, what have I accomplished, what I’ve failed at, along with a lot of other things. It made me reflect on a lot of stuff.
“From there to now my whole career in sports has been very difficult for me. Any team I’ve been on I never came in as the best player or never came in as the starter or any of those things. I always came in as the guy who had to work for everything I had, whether it was basketball, football or track. I was not good when I first started, but I ended up being good because I just wanted to prove that I belonged on the team – not as a starter or anything, but just that I belong here.”
“I took that mindset from when I was a kid until now,” he added. “When I was in middle school for some strange reason in the morning – school started at 9:30 – I was the guy who ran to school and it was a mile and a half away from my house. I would run to school every single morning. I don’t know why I did that as a kid. My mind was just programmed like that. That’s just me. That’s always been me.
“I love to work hard in anything I do. If I’m going to do something, I might as well put my all into it. That’s why I feel like I am the way I am.”
It also explains, in just a few paragraphs, why the 27-year-old Orlando product has morphed into a leader in the Bombers’ locker room. The club’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2017, Alexander observed and learned from the vets around him at the time, from Chris Randle to Moe Leggett to T.J. Heath.
It was also Randle who told Alexander to start preparing to be the secondary’s leader. He was fast-tracked into that role in ’19 and then, while struggling through a stretch that saw him miss eight games, he was moved from halfback to safety.
His approach to all that – the film study, staying engaged – was critical as he helped lead a group that saw veterans Nick Taylor and Mercy Maston and rookie Mike Jones all moved into to the starting lineup in the Bombers’ run to glory later in the season.
That leadership will be invaluable again in 2021 with Winston Rose having signed a futures contract with the Cincinnati Bengals and Marcus Sayles having landed with the B.C. Lions.
“All negative things – or things you consider negative – can always come out as a positive situation. That’s what happened,” Alexander said of his time on the injured list. “When I got hurt I actually started watching the game from different angles on the field – from the sidelines to the back of the end zone to the other side of the sidelines. I was just watching everything and everybody. It allowed me to expand my mind and see more, so I was able to communicate more even inside the meeting rooms. Just having that ability to talk to every guy or sit right now with every guy off the field and let them see what I see when I’m on the field. It worked out well. And to be honest with you now I’m glad it happened that way.”
Alexander said he may have been tempted to test CFL free agency, what with the market opening in less than a month. But he’s also found a football home in Winnipeg, a factor which played a huge role in his decision to stay put.
“I’m a guy of loyalty,” he said. “One thing that never really mattered to me was money or being a starter or anything like that. What does matter to me is people who really care and are genuine around the game and around people. And Winnipeg showed me that in the first year and I didn’t really need to see anything else. The last time I felt like that was at UCF and I had a phenomenal four years there. My three years in Winnipeg, we’ve had a phenomenal three years there. I don’t see anything as to why I need to change. I’ve only had two (head) coaches my whole career, college and professional and both coaches I love to death – Coach O’Leary and Coach O’Shea. It’s funny how both of them are Irish.
“Both places I’ve been it’s been a tight-knit family and we built something and became something special. There’s no reason for me to go anywhere else when I feel comfortable here.”
BLUE NOTES: The Bombers announced the signing of two Canadians on Monday, both identified after the 2020 CFL Draft in reciver Macho Bockru and defensive tackle Zach Houghron:
Bockru (6-2, 195, Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB) was a Canada West All Star in 2019 after leading the Bisons in receiving yards with 493 on 34 receptions, a total that ranked fifth in the conference. Bockru, a product of Dakota Collegiate and the Winnipeg Rifles, also had five touchdowns, which led Canada West and was tied for fourth in the nation.
Houghron (6-3, 258, Wilfrid Laurier, Toronto, ON) appeared in 22 games over four years with the Golden Hawks. He had two sacks, 7.5 tackles and two pass knockdowns in seven games in 2019.
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