Alexander finds his place at Penn State
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Many football fans would have a hard time visualizing linebacker Rogers Alexander as a sweeper for the soccer team, but at one point soccer was Alexander's only sport.
The senior tri-captain, who helped the Lions defeat Maryland 20-18 Saturday afternoon, is a self-proclaimed "Air Force Brat" who traveled the world before settling in Riverdale, Md., in the early '70s.
Alexander lists Turkey and Canada as two of the countries he called home before returning to the states and those early stops gave him many different sporting opportunites.
"I played soccer in Turkey — it was the first thing I ever played," he said. "Then it was tennis. I didn't play football until I got back to the states."
Finally at the age of nine, Alexander began playing organized football and quickly developed the skills that earned him praise as the outstanding high school defensive player in metropolitan Washington D.C. He played for DeMatha Catholic, where he was a teammate with current Lion fullback Steve Smith.
Although his days of crossing the globe are over, Alexander feels he has benefited from living in various environments.
"I think it helped me in adjusting to different lifestyles and different people that you meet when you're involved in a collegiate situation," he said.
His skills continued to blossom at Penn State when he became one of the few freshmen to letter in '82. He made 13 tackles that season, intercepted a pass and forced a fumble against Boston College and forced a fumble in the Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia.
In his sophomore year, he recorded 45 tackles and led the team with six sacks and 10 tackles for losses. His top game of '83 was a 12-tackle and one-interception performance against Syracuse.
Last year Alexander opened the season as Shane Conlan's backup at outside linebacker but started the first two games at one of the inside linebacker spots when Don Graham was injured.
After Graham returned, Alexander moved back to the outside. His early season performance was so impressive, however, that he began seeing more playing time at the inside position opposite Graham.
Against B.C. he had a season-high nine tackles and intercepted Doug Flutie on the four-yard-line, in a game the Lions won 37-30.
"That's unusual," Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky said of Alexander's four-year contribution to the program. "He really impressed us with his all-out hustle and hitting ability."
During the waning moments of Saturday's game, when Maryland was driving for what could have been a field goal attempt to win the game, Alexander said he felt responsible for keeping his teammates from panicing.
"Coming down to the waning moments guys were looking at me like 'Oh no the roof's falling in.' " he said. "You have to try to be a steadying factor there and look at guys and really mean what you say. Let them know that it's not over — nobody's crossed the goal line, the field goal hasn't gone through yet.
"I just told them to play defense from now on and let the chips fall where they fall."
Although the Lions had held a 17-0 lead early in the game, Alexander knew he could not let the defense rest. He knew that the Terrapins had big play potential, but realized that the Terps took the lead thanks to Lion turnovers and not long drives against the defense.
Afterwards he said he hopes the victory means the Lions are on the way to reclaiming their notch as one of the top teams in the East. He also hopes that the Lions can have a banner year in his final season.
"Every major college football team thinks of that perfect season, that national championship," he said. "That's something we all strive for every year."