COLUMBIA - MU linebacker Van Alexander has somebody watching his every move during practice, standing in the shadows off of the field.
Wearing sunglasses, a button-down shirt and jeans, this man is alone.
This person has control. You have to be like everybody else, he has told Alexander in his slow Missouri drawl.
Alexander has no choice. This man’s the boss, and Alexander must do what he’s told.
This man is Rick Alexander, Van Alexander’s father.
He owns the Columbia Mall Car Wash, and his son occasionally works there. To get more tips, Van Alexander has asked his father if he can wear his MU gear.
The answer’s no. At the car wash, he’s on his father’s team and wears a light blue shirt with “Columbia Mall Car Wash” on the front.
For the Tigers, Alexander wears No. 5, a number that fans might see on the field more often this season.
After an impressive spring in 2006, when he won the team’s most improved linebacker award, he was projected to start at weakside linebacker last fall. But his groin and hip nagged him all season, and he had to watch the first six games as a spectator.
Now, he’s healthy and projected to start at strong side linebacker.
This fact pleases his father, but it’s not what makes it special for him.
Rick Alexander played linebacker for Missouri from 1974 to 1978. But unlike his son, who earned a scholarship as one of the most valued linebacker recruits in the nation, he was a walk-on.
“(He’s) getting it done,” Rick Alexander said with a laugh, “and I didn’t.”
Although he loved football, he didn’t push Van Alexander into the sport.
“I always wanted him to,” he said, “but I never mentioned anything.”
Van Alexander fulfilled his father’s wish in junior high. He shared his interest with a fellow teammate, quarterback Chase Patton. They attended MU games at Faurot Field and hung out on the Hill together. They socialized, but made sure to follow the game, with dreams of joining the action one day.
The two were destructive then, teaming up to bully their peers. Like a gang, they had a name. As defensive linemen for the Jefferson Junior High School ninth grade football team, they called each other the “Sack Brothers.”
Yes, Patton and Van Alexander, who had a bowl cut parted in the middle at the time, were once defensive linemen.
Then they went to Rock Bridge High School, honed their skills at their respective positions and became coveted recruits.
Van Alexander committed to Missouri early in high school, during December of his junior year.
Other programs still pursued him, but he would respond: “I’m going to Mizzou, thanks for calling.”
Patton became a Tiger as well and credits Van Alexander as one of the influences.
“It was fun to go through it together,” Patton said.
Patton and Van Alexander’s parents are also good friends. Rick Alexander said the two couples have coordinated their travel plans to attend road games together.
Maybe they will see Van Alexander finally start.
After three seasons, the linebacker said the opportunity would be great.
“I’ve been waiting a long time,” Van Alexander said, “trying to work my way up there.”
INJURY UPDATE: Tailback Tony Temple and cornerback Hardy Ricks were both at practice Wednesday morning. Temple was wearing a brace on his bruised right knee, and Ricks had his left arm in a sling, protecting his dislocated shoulder.
Temple said his knee was stiff, and he expected to miss a couple of days.
The injury didn’t seem to concern him too much. Or his father, who text messaged Temple to find out what happened.
After hearing the account, Temple’s father was pleased.
“He was like, ‘Well, finally, I like the defense playing like that,’” Temple said, “and I just started cracking up.”
Coach Gary Pinkel said Ricks’ shoulder will not require surgery and hoped to have him available for the team’s first game, against Illinois on Sept. 1.