With one race 12 years ago, Rick Alexander knew his son, Van, was going to be something special.
Rick Alexander took his sons Van, 6, and Blake, 8, to the Francis Quadrangle to see the columns. Once they stepped out of the car, the sprint to the six stone pillars began.
Van raced past his older brother and then tied his dad, a former MU linebacker.
Van Alexander has certainly turned out to be something, all right. Alexander is one of the nation’s most highly touted linebackers, one of the cornerstones of Missouri’s next recruiting class, and a two-way star for the 6-0 Rock Bridge football team.
A big Tigers fan
Don’t let Alexander’s speed fool you; he is big. At 6 feet 1 and 213 pounds, he can deliver a hard hit.
“He is a man amongst boys,” Bruins quarterback Chase Patton said.
Alexander’s combination of speed and size had college coaches across the nation looking at him. TheInsiders.com ranks Alexander as 30th among linebackers, inside or outside, in the nation. Rivals.com ranks Alexander as the eighth-best outside linebacker.
Most of those college coaches didn’t get far with Alexander, who always had a gut feeling he would go to Missouri.
Even though his dad played for Missouri from 1974-1978 and Alexander grew up in Columbia, he wasn’t a big Missouri fan until 1997. That is when his days of playing soccer on the hill at Memorial Stadium and ignoring the games came to an end.
It was the infamous “kicked ball game” against Nebraska, and from then on, Alexander was a devoted Tigers fan.
“That was the first game I remember when I was like, ‘this is the No. 1 team in the nation we’re playing, and we should have beat them,’” Alexander said. “That was the first game where I became the die-hard Missouri fan I am now.”
Early in December, with recruiting letters pouring in, and Missouri’s offer on the table, Rick Alexander sat down with his son.
“I said, ‘I don’t care where you play football, I’ll be there. I’ll find a way to be there,’” he said. “But I told him, ‘If you’re 100 percent sure you want to go to Missouri, then you should commit now because it would help them out with their recruiting strategy.’
“I said, ‘If you’re only 99 percent sure, then wait a year from now.’ So he thought about it, and one night in the middle of December, he looked at me and said, ‘I’m ready.’”
Going both ways
Alexander was Rock Bridge’s second rushing option last season behind senior Brandon Brown, who ran for 1,141 yards. Alexander rushed 23 times for 147 yards, focusing most on his linebacker duties.
“I’ve never had a year where I’ve been the tailback with the most carries,” he said.
Meanwhile, Alexander led the Bruins with 146 tackles last season.
“I guess I have a knack, just a nose for getting to the ball carrier,” Alexander said. “With our defensive schemes and the plays we run, I just go and find the ball.”
When Brown graduated in June, Rock Bridge needed Alexander to be its man at linebacker and tailback. It’s safe to say he has answered the challenge.
Alexander has rushed for 501 yards on 58 carries through six games, with 10 touchdowns. He also has caught eight passes for 62 yards and another touchdown.
“If he wanted to and (MU coach Gary) Pinkel was looking for another running back, I think he could hold his own in the Big 12,” said Antwaun Bynum, an assistant coach at Rock Bridge and a former Missouri defensive lineman. “The guy steps on everybody, he breaks a lot of tackles, and just the speed you see in the games is just unbelievable.”
He hasn’t surprised many with his success so far playing both ways. With his size, Alexander is almost as big as some college power backs, and he is as big as, and definitely faster than, the high school defensive lineman he is trying to get past.
“A lot of times, he’ll speed by everyone on the sidelines and there will be one last guy who has an angle on him, and Van will just run the guy over,” Patton said.
Looking at every play from the other side’s perspective has helped him at both positions. At linebacker, he knows what a tailback is thinking and vice versa.
“You’re going to take a hit or give a hit on every play,” Alexander said. “If you’re thinking like a tailback playing linebacker, you have an idea where he’s going to go. It helps out a lot.”
Something to build on
It’s no surprise Alexander embraces the challenge of playing both ways. He seems to love a challenge rather than taking the easy way.
Case in point: Before he committed to Missouri, Alexander received interest from national powers such as Oklahoma and Kansas State. Those schools come with virtual guarantees of major bowl games and conference championship games. Alexander wasn’t into the guarantees.
It’s something Alexander has helped accomplish at Rock Bridge. When he was in eighth grade at Jefferson Junior High, Rock Bridge went 0-10. The next season, the Bruins went 4-6. With Patton, Johnny Kruse and several of his other classmates going to Rock Bridge for football in 10th grade, they were poised to make a difference.
“We’re just trying to put Rock Bridge back on the map so everyone will start coming out for football,” he said.
It has happened. Alexander and Patton, among the nation’s top quarterbacks, have brought unprecedented attention to the Bruins. In their sophomore season, they went 6-4, and in their junior season, they were Class 6 state semifinalists and finished 8-4.
“I think Rock Bridge is going to be good for years to come, and I would like to do the same at Missouri,” Alexander said.
Alexander is going to a Missouri team that has a lot of big talkers, especially on the defense he will play on. Alexander shyly smiles when he talks about talking on the field.
“I guess it’s kind of weird,” he said. “Sometimes it takes one play to get me riled up. I just kinda get mad. And then I start yelling. I just kind of go crazy.”
Bynum has seen that kind of killer instinct.
“Van is just a hard-nosed kid,” Bynum said. “He don’t take no crap from nobody. I think he’s going to be very successful.”
Alexander said every position is fun, so whether he is playing tailback, outside safety or linebacker at Missouri, it won’t matter.
After all, he will play at his dream school with the chance at fulfilling his dream, getting Missouri to prominence.
Come August, Alexander will walk on the Quad, not sprint across it.