Lamar Jackson had what could have possibly been the best single season performance Louisville football has ever witnessed. The 2016 Heisman trophy winner recorded 3,390 yards and 30 touchdowns through the air while adding 1,538 yards on the ground with 21 touchdowns. We could go on and on about the spectacular moments and gaudy numbers Jackson produced, but Jackson wasn’t the only star on the 2016 Louisville football team. A young man from Charlotte, North Carolina wanted a piece of the spotlight as well and after an impressive sophomore season Jaire Alexander proved he had earned it.

While watching Alexander on the football field, the word electric resonates through ones thoughts, his ability to change directions as well as start and stop classified as elite. But Jaire wasn’t always thought to possess anywhere near this sort of speed his father Landis Alexander recalls “The knock was size and speed believe it or not.”

“We were taking him to camps as a receiver.” Landis stated “I mean he killed at camps. Easily the best there but he was a 5’9″-5’10” receiver with 4.6 speed. Of course he was faster, he just couldn’t run the 40. He didn’t know how to run against time. He had to race someone until he learned how to run.”

Despite heading to camps as a receiver, Jaire had to adapt to the circumstances at his new high school that he enrolled in midway through his sophomore season, wide receiver not being much of an option. “When we got to the high school they already had their guys at receiver and they had a need at corner so he played full time defense and part time offense. Believe it or not he ended with way more yards than the guys who played receiver full time.” said Landis, “Kind of the same situation at Louisville. The need was on defense. He was the leading receiver in our area his senior year while only playing part time offense [in high school].”

But being the leading receiver on his team as well as one of the best defensive players didn’t bring about quite as much recruiting buzz as one might think. Coming out of high school Jaire was rated a consensus low 3-star athlete and the #98 cornerback nationally according to 247Sports. The offers really didn’t display a high level of confidence in Jaire being an elite level athlete either. To go along with offers from South Carolina and Louisville were a collection of offers from schools such as Charlotte, Ball St., Marshall, and Mercer. In addition, the 247Sports “Skills” as set by industry recruiting analysts pegged Jaire as someone who didn’t possess many elite physical talents, being rated a 4 out of 10 in change of direction, 5 out of 10 in recovery speed, and 6 out of 10 in overall speed.

Offers, rankings, and analyst’s opinions didn’t bother Jaire, though. Instead, he developed a mindset that has stuck with him to this day. “He has always been underrated, under the radar. He always has had to prove himself or felt like he needed to. He feels like the underdog kind of like the networks treat UofL, so they fit.” Landis Alexander said.

Despite being under the recruiting radar, Coach Bobby Petrino and the Louisville staff know talent when they see it and because of this, were the first to offer Jaire. But circumstances didn’t lead the two parties together initially. “We were unable to make it to the big camp that UofL was hosting so I imagine they felt that we were uninterested.” Landis recalled. With Louisville’s interest seemingly gone, Jaire landed a flurry of offers from mid-majors before eventually committing to the Charlotte 49ers on February 22nd, 2014.  This commitment would be short lived though as a SEC school took notice of Alexander.

“The coaches at South Carolina were saying that if he came down to their camp and performed well they would offer him.” Landis Alexander stated, “He did not allow one catch all camp so they offered.”

“After Jaire received the offer from South Carolina he contacted his recruiter [at Charlotte]. It was tough because he loved them and they loved him. They understood though because it was a bigger program. It was kind of hard on him to make the decision even though USC was the bigger program.” Landis said.

While the commitment to South Carolina allowed Jaire to stay close to home as well as play at a well known program, a problem emerged as time went on. The relationship with South Carolina wasn’t exactly what the Alexanders had expected. Again, Jaire was put in a predicament regarding his college choice.

“We went to several games in season and Jaire’s mom felt like [South Carolina] didn’t think a lot of Jaire. She felt that they liked him but didn’t love him. We asked specifically how he fit and the answer wasn’t clear. They had 2 other corners that were 4-star that were committed and my wife felt that those kids were their priority. They had already had home visits and the staff had come to games while no one came to our home nor to a game. Jaire started feeling like he was put off and he was the only one that was graduating early.”

As much as he liked the school and its location, Jaire knew it was time to move on. “They treated him like he was a second rate athlete.” Landis said, “Almost like they were doing him a favor until he de-committed, then they rolled out the red carpet. It was too little too late.”

Jaire knew he had to find a school sooner rather than later if he was to enroll in January. He had taken visits to Duke, North Carolina St., and Wake Forest, but none were interested at the time. North Carolina, Georgia Tech, and Michigan all tried to jump in the mix at the last minute, but it was too late.

Alexander already knew in which direction he wanted to go. “He had already fallen in love with Coach Petrino and Louisville!” Landis remarked, “He was so excited, he couldn’t wait to commit. In fact, he did it without even consulting us but it was cool because we loved it too!”

This time circumstances had brought the pair together.

“He loved the visit and the staff’s intentions were clear.” Landis stated, “I could tell that he was loved by staff and players. They all had seen his film. He felt great about it and committed on the spot. I had him call the South Carolina staff to tell them immediately so that it was heard directly from him. He had to be a man about it.”

The Rocky River High School star arrived at Louisville in January of 2015, looking to fight for a starting job left by departing seniors Terell Floyd and Andrew Johnson, all while trying to get acclimated to a new environment.

“At the beginning it was a little adjustment because he had no friends. Because he was a mid year enrollee it was tough because no one from his class was there. I just told him that he never had an issue getting to know people and to be patient and after a while he was okay.” Landis remembered.

With his first college hurdle conquered Jaire turned his attention to the football field, but it wasn’t going to get any easier. Sophomore’s Trumaine Washington, who had got his feet wet the season prior after appearing in 8 games, along with Georgia transfer Shaq Wiggins, a consensus 4-star and first year starter for the Bulldogs, figured to start at both cornerback positions. For Jaire, this was very unfamiliar territory.

“His freshman year was kind of hard because he had never not been a starter. He felt that he could contribute more. He also felt that he was good enough to play more.” Landis recalled, “He was disappointed in the lack of playing time. Sometimes he was frustrated. I always said to him that his time would come and to be patient and play his role. The cream always rises to the top!”

Jaire finished the 2015 season with 19 total tackles, 1 interception, and 2 passes defended to go along with 23 punt returns for 223 yards (9.7 yard per return average). Not too shabby for a true freshman, but the 5’11” 188lbs cornerback wanted more. He wanted to ensure he would get more playing time, so Jaire took the initiative to study other positions as well as get even more familiar with his own.

“His focus between years was to get into his playbook and learn more. Not only plays but other positions just in case he was asked to play a different position in the secondary. He also worked on getting bigger, stronger, and faster and watched more film.” Landis stated.

Now, knowing not only the boundary corner and field corner but also the star position (a hybrid defensive back/linebacker), Jaire entered fall camp with much higher expectations for himself.

“[It was] much easier for him. He stayed in shape and knew what to expect. He was much more confident.” Landis remarked.

That confidence was evident during the 2016 season along with his jaw-dropping physical ability. Jaire finished the season with 36 total tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 5 interceptions, 8 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovered. As if that weren’t enough, Alexander also displayed his electric playmaking ability on punt returns, returning 19 total punts for 214 yards (11.3 yards per return) and 1 touchdown. But it wasn’t just the traditional statistics that indicated just how well he did.

Jaire put on a clinic in primetime against Clemson on October 1st , recording 2 interceptions, allowing only 1 first down, and forcing 1 fumble, all while shutting down Clemson’s top two receivers Deon Cain and Mike Williams. The performance was good enough to be ranked the #5 individual performance by an ACC player in 2016 according to Pro Football Focus.

It was neither his impressive game against Clemson nor his admirable stats that could adequately describe just how good of a year Alexander had, though. After all, if a cornerback’s name is never mentioned that is generally considered to be a good thing. What really indicated just how well he performed was a stat by way of Pro Football Focus: Jaire Alexander was graded the #1 Power-5 cornerback for the 2016 season, tied with LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White. Add in Alexander’s 2nd team All-ACC honor and it’s hard to understate the type of season Jaire had.

Entering Jaire’s junior year expectations are even higher, 2nd team All-ACC and tied for #1 cornerback nationally not being good enough. At this point some people get satisfied with their accomplishments, but not Jaire.

“I’ve always told him what it took to be great.” Landis Alexander said, “He said he wanted the greatness. It was never enough to just be good. He’s definitely got that Michael Jordan issue. He always wanted to be the guy.”

Heading into the 2017 Louisville football season Jaire will get a chance to be that guy on defense. You better believe he will be ready for it, too.

 

 

 

 

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Chris Person

Father, Husband, Louisville Fan. Follow me on twitter @cpersonTCZ for Louisville recruiting, news, and analysis.

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