By Will Vandervort.
There is a reason why Mackensie Alexander works so hard to be the best. That’s how he was raised.
“That’s a trait my parents passed on to me,” the Clemson cornerback said. “I’m just doing the same thing that I saw in the things that they did. I’m taking that path. I want everyone to know that I am a hard worker and that talent is not the only thing that got me here.”
Alexander got to Clemson, which finished the season 10-3 and ranked No. 15 in both the Associated Press and the Coaches Poll, by outworking everyone he has ever played with or played against. At Immokalee (Fla.) High School he was an All-State performer in football, ran track and was one of Florida’s top 15 wrestlers in his weight class.
Rated as the No. 4 overall player in the country by ESPN in 2013, Alexander recorded 10 interceptions and 139 tackles in his high school career. During his senior year, he recorded 51 tackles, forced two fumbles, while recovering one and had four interceptions.
But Alexander wasn’t content to just earn a scholarship at Clemson. His goals are bigger than just playing college football. He doesn’t want to be the next Deon Sanders—his childhood idol. No, he wants to be better than Sanders or any Hall of Fame cornerback that has come before him. That’s why the 5-foot-10, 190-pound redshirt freshman sits in the meeting room, watches film and grades himself moments after a game.
“Most people are out doing whatever young people do on a Saturday night after a ballgame in college, and he is sitting right there grading himself and critiquing himself watching the tape. That is just his mentality,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “That is how he is wired. He loves it. He loves to grind. He loves to practice. He loves to study the opponent and it transfers to the field.”
This past year Alexander had 22 tackles on 18 first hits and four assists, and added six passes broken up and a recovered fumble. He concluded a Freshman All-American season with a strong performance against Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl when he had four tackles and two passes broken up.
Oklahoma wide receiver Sterling Sheppard, who averaged 19 yards per catch in 2014, had just one reception for 13 yards against Alexander and Clemson’s No. 1 ranked defense.
“I don’t care what ESPN says about you or what the draft people say about you, when you step on the field against me, it is a one-on-one match up and I’m going to always win that match up,” Alexander said. “I thrive off of and I love competition. I enjoy being one-on-one. If you can beat me one-on-one, beat me consistently, show up. Don’t be there and be out.”
Alexander said after the game that Shepard was talking about how he was going to light the Clemson secondary up and was going to have a big game. That only inflamed Alexander and led to a pregame conversation in which the Clemson coaches had to separate Alexander and Shepard.
“I don’t care if ESPN says you’re one of the nation’s best. That doesn’t matter to me. You have to show up on game day,” Alexander said.
Alexander shows up in every game. He is seldom beat on a play and rarely has he run into a receiver that works and prepares harder than he does.
“Mackensie takes pride in that. He likes a challenge. That is what is special about Mackensie,” safety Robert Smith said. “He likes a challenge. That is him day in and day out. He is like that all the time. He is a competitor. He will challenge you in anything. If you say you can run faster, he will tell you lets run. He has a bright future.”
But it is a future Alexander believes he still needs to work on.
“It is definitely a progression. I have to work on all aspects of my game,” he said. “I think I had a pretty good year this year, but I have to keep working on everything. I can always get better. I’m never satisfied.”