By Ed McGranahan.
By Ed McGranahan
After a season on the Immokalee High jayvee team as a freshman, watching his identical twin play on Friday nights, Mackensie Alexander was assigned to cover Sammy Watkins in a scrimmage the next spring.
Already one of the top receivers in Florida, Watkins was on the fast track to elite status in 2010 at South Fort Myers High School. Tony Allen, coaching the Immokalee varsity secondary, needed to see if Alexander could hang with a player of Watkins’ stature.
By Allen’s reckoning it was a draw. Watkins caught a couple of passes, including one for a long touchdown. Alexander intercepted a pass and forced a fumble.
“It was a good battle,” said Allen, now Immokalee athletic director. “It was when I knew this kid could play.”
Football at rural Immokalee has produced a 2A state champion in 2004, a 5A runner-up in 2012 and served as the launching pad for NFL players Edgerrin James, Brian Rolle, Albert Bentley, Aaron Henry and Javarris James.
The core group from last season’s team grew up in that culture. In 2007 their junior midget team finished third at the 2007 Pop Warner Super Bowl in Orlando. The coach discovered Mackensie Alexander playing in the neighborhood and invited him to join the team.
“Coming out of middle school he was not considered one of the better kids,” Allen said.
His twin, Mackenro Alexander, an inch taller and 15 pounds heavier, made the high school varsity as a freshman. Mackensie “kind of worked his way to the top of the class.”
When he signed with Clemson earlier this month, Mackensie Alexander was the second highest rated player remaining on the board. Quiet and serious, he had refused to show his hand after committing to Tennessee after the U.S. Army National Combine in January 2012, then withdrawing weeks later when the coach that recruited him moved to another school.
In all, Alexander reportedly received 30 offers from major college programs. At one point, he and Mackenro indicated they would sign with the same school.
“I feel I’m better than my brother,” Mackenro said in an interview before signing day. “He shuts down half of the field, but I make more plays. I feel I’m the best defensive player on my team. He’s an All-American, but I’m the best player.”
Mackensie reportedly made unofficial trips to Notre Dame, Miami, Georgia, Alabama, Florida State and Kentucky during the summer and officially visited Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Auburn and Clemson where Watkins was one of his hosts in November.
Mackenro, an all-state linebacker, chose Auburn over Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Rutgers. Mackensie picked “the University of Clemson.”
At 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, Mackensie possesses a highly coveted skill. Allen described him as “one of the best – if not the best – cover guy we have ever had,” a student of the game with a passion for film study and a high football IQ.
Tough and physical, “not typical for a great cover guy,” Allen said. Alexander has been compared to Deion Sanders. Perhaps it’s for his on-field showmanship which belies his public persona, characterized as “introverted.”
“He catches the ball well, he runs very well, so we moved him around a little bit this year,” Allen said. “We had a couple injuries this year that required he played a little more offense than he wanted, and he made some big plays down the stretch.”
Alexander’s former Pop Warner coach said they he occasionally sees Alexander working out on the street late at night. Allen said he’s impressed by his commitment “after the lights go out.”
“He takes his craft very, very seriously.”
And with so many distractions in young people’s lives, Allen said, “He has that ability to separate himself and being able to do the right things,” he said. “He’s a kid that pretty much stayed on the straight and narrow.
“He knows what he wants and he’s not going to let anything get in the way of it.”