COLUMBIA — It’s the stuff of legends: Tom Dempsey’s kicking a NFL-record 63-yard field goal in 1970, despite being born with no toes on his kicking leg. Mickey Mantle’s “thousand-mile" home run. Dual-sport legend Bo Jackson popping his hip back into socket, a supposedly impossible feat, just seconds after dislocating it in an injury that ended his football career.
And then there’s Missouri receiver Danario Alexander’s 46-inch vertical jump on a freshly reconstructed ligament in his knee. When idyllic coaches tell Alexander to “reach for the stars,” there’s a chance he might actually touch one.
“We’ve played basketball a couple times,” said senior receiver Tommy Saunders, adding that he would guarantee Alexander could dunk on an 11- or 12-foot goal. “He’s jumped over a couple — many people. Playing with him, he always just tries to dunk on people, that’s when you see it the most.
At 6-feet-5-inches, Alexander already towers over most cornerbacks. Add to that his ability to hop over the average 8-year-old, and Alexander provides a reliable second red-zone threat along with senior tight end Chase Coffman, who holds the school record for receiving touchdowns.
Alexander has caught touchdown passes in his last three games since returning from an ACL injury, which happened first in December and again in June. His last two touchdowns, which came against conference opponents Nebraska and Oklahoma State, showcased Alexander’s vertical prowess. The junior receiver took to the air to haul in a 26-yard pass over his shoulder against Nebraska that put the Tigers up 52-10 in the third quarter.
“He could lose six inches off his vertical and probably jump higher than most DBs (defensive backs) in the league,” offensive coordinator Dave Christensen said. “Each week he’s stronger, in practice and in games, and continues to improve.”
On Saturday, in a 28-23 loss to Oklahoma State, Alexander provided his aerial services once more, going over the back of Cowboy defensive back Jacob Lacey and somehow managing to get a foot down in the back of the end zone to bring the Tigers to within five points with 4:27 to play.
Coming back from the injury, there was concern that Alexander wouldn’t be the same receiver he was in 2007.
The critics were right. He’s been better.
“It’s all just confidence,” said sophomore Jeremy Maclin. “Once he gets that confidence, we know he can go up and get any ball.”
Maclin, who suffered a knee injury more severe than Alexander’s prior to the 2006 season, added that after the surgery, the knee can actually become stronger than it was before the injury.
“I’m playing more cautious now,” Alexander said. “Last year, I was coming out of my breaks faster, and doing things like that, but the rest will come along as time goes. Once I’m out there, it isn’t in my mind as much, but I still know just by the knee brace I wear.”
After dropping a ball that led to quarterback Chase Daniel’s first interception against the Cowboys on Saturday, Alexander's confidence didn't waiver.
“I just didn’t make the play, I don’t know what happened,” Alexander said of the drop. “I came to the sideline asking my coach for a chance to redeem myself. Of course, you want to go back and make that play, but right now, that’s in the past.”
Even further in his past, three years to be exact, is a story not uncommon for any player in the Big 12.
Texas coach Mack Brown doesn’t recruit so much as he picks and chooses from a wealth of talent as the leader of the state’s premiere football program. Alexander grew up about 100 miles from Austin, Texas, in Marlin, Texas, and like many who play high school football in the Big 12’s biggest state, he played under the lights every Friday night with one dream in mind.
“I was a Longhorn fan growing up, they were my favorite team, watching them week-to-week,” Alexander said. “I’d have loved to go there, but it didn’t work out.”
Rated as a two-star recruit by popular recruiting Web site Rivals.com, the only in-state programs clamoring for Alexander were Conference USA members Southern Methodist University and Houston, along with perennial Big 12 doormat Baylor.
Obviously, getting the attention of Texas coaches wasn’t exactly in reach.
Alexander, like Daniel, ended up at the school that offered him his first scholarship.
“They were just the first school who found me,” Alexander said. “So I figured I’d stay loyal to them.”
Now, he is preparing to play his first game in the stadium he once fantasized about playing in.
“It’s the biggest team in Texas,” Alexander said. “I want to go out there and have a big game in front of their fans.”