Sept. 2, 2003
BERKELEY - To say Lorenzo Alexander has always been big for his age is kind of like saying Stevie Wonder started early in music. When he was seven years old, his mother tried to register him for youth football in their hometown of Oakland. But the program organizers, after taking a glimpse at Lorenzo's oversized frame and 100-pound plus weight, informed his mom that Lorenzo would have to play in the 12-year-old division.
Alexander's mother, Stephanie Moore, refused to let her young son play in a higher league.
To this day, Lorenzo still remembers how tears flowed from his eyes on the drive home.
Ironically, Alexander - a former Parade magazine high school All-American and the veteran leader of Cal's 2003 defense - did not play organized football until he entered Berkeley's St. Mary's High School in 1997. This, despite weighing in at 140 pounds at eight years old and displaying a remarkable combination of size and speed throughout his formative years.
Now measuring 6-3, 295 pounds as a tenacious junior defensive tackle for the Golden Bears, some day soon, Lorenzo may again be directed to a higher league - the National Football League. Only this time, his mother probably won't stand in the way.
Ranked as the No. 7 defensive recruit in the nation by one recruiting magazine coming out of high school, Alexander was arguably Cal's prize recruit in 2001. Many experts said he was destined to become the next in a long line of great Golden Bear defensive linemen, which has included the likes of Andre Carter, Regan Upshaw, Rhett Hall and Brandon Whiting in recent years.
An impenetrable force in the middle, he earned Pac-10 All-Freshmen first team honors after corralling 24 tackles, including five for losses, in his rookie season. Then last fall, he was awarded All-Pac-10 honorable mention notice after another solid campaign of nearly identical stats (25 tackles, 5 for losses, one sack).
Alexander traces much of his early athletic and academic successes directly to his mother - who financed his education by working two jobs and gave her son the "tough love" he needed - and also credits his uncle, Steven Moore, who served as a father figure.
"Beginning when I was in eighth grade, my mom worked extremely hard so she could send me to a private high school," he said with obvious pride. "My mom and uncle always have been my strongest influences. My mom was kind of the enforcer. I was a good student but I'd get in some mischief every once in awhile. I guess I was hard headed. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be here today."
To help pay for the $7,000-per-year tuition at St. Mary's, Alexander would also pitch in by working each summer. He was employed at the school, cleaning out lockers, mowing the lawns, and even pulling out old carpet in some of the classrooms.
He credits his uncle for instilling that blue-collar mentality that has also enhanced his playing on the football field. Steven Moore, himself a graduate of St. Mary's, coached his nephew in youth baseball before eventually becoming his defensive coordinator at St. Mary's.
"I never really knew my dad growing up and my uncle, Steve, really stepped up," Alexander said. "He taught me to want to be strong and take care of my family. I think it's good to earn what you get and my uncle always taught me that. If I needed cleats or a baseball bat as a kid, he would make me cut the lawn or do some other chore before I got it. That way, I never took it for granted."
Yet, growing up in Oakland - a city with crime problems and public service shortages that have made national headlines in recent years - had its perils for the young Lorenzo.
"There's no denying that drugs and shootings were part of my life growing up," he admitted. "I have always shied away from that element. Early on, those people knew what I was all about. They knew I wanted to make something of my life. In fact, when I would even start to hang with them, they would discourage me and even say, 'Stay away, Lorenzo, this life isn't for you.'"
A legal studies major who has aspirations of becoming a sports attorney after his football career is over, Alexander hopes to be in a position to give back to Oakland some day.
"I'll always come back to Oakland," he promised. "I would like to help give it a more positive name. You just hear about the killings and crime, but there are a lot of positive people and positive things going on in Oakland."
One specific way he hopes to contribute is by opening an 18-year-and-under music club for teenagers in the city.
"Right now, they have no place to go, and that's why there's so much crime," he reasons.
Alexander already has engaged himself with several Oakland youngsters.
"I try to tutor kids," he said. "I umpire in the Oakland Babe Ruth League. I'm also one of the coaches and I've taken one 14-year-old kid in and tried to teach him about life. I think he can see me on his level, like a peer. There really isn't that much age difference and it's fun for me. He teaches me things, too."
Alexander has also learned plenty from second-year head coach Jeff Tedford and his dynamic coaching staff.
"From the beginning, they taught us that when we lose, we lose as a team," Alexander said. "Same if we win. And when somebody makes a great play, it's 'we all made a great play.' And as a team, we're more supportive of each other now. If one of my teammates messes up, I ask him, 'what do I need to do to help you out?'"
He takes that same attitude into this season, both personally and as part of a team.
"It's definitely my turn to shine," he said without the slightest degree of cockiness. "I have always tried to be an impact guy. Now that a lot of the other guys are gone, it's probably more pressure on me. But I don't feel that way. I feel like the other 10 guys will also do their jobs."
But what about opening up your season against Kansas State, a perennial Top 10 powerhouse, in the Black Coaches Association Classic at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium Aug. 23?
"Kansas State is a very good team, but so is everybody else on our schedule," he said, referring to a 2003 schedule that features 10 bowl teams from last year. "No disrespect to Kansas State, but I think the Pac-10 is a great conference which prepares us for the top competition."
And will we see Lorenzo's mother at that much-awaited season opener?
"Probably not, because she only makes a couple of the shorter road trips like USC and Arizona State," he said. "But my mom is Cal's biggest fan. She's already working on her 'Defense' sign for the stands. She tries to sneak her foghorn into the stadium every game. She's got bells she brings and she's making Cal jerseys for the season. And, of course, she'll be decked out in all blue and gold at the home games with the rest of my family. She's amazing."
Some day, Alexander dreams about reaching success, either on the football field or as a sports agent. And when that day comes, maybe his mom won't have to work two different jobs.
"I hate to see her give up her night job at Toys R Us, though," he admitted. "She gets discounts on all the video games. Hey, you never get too old for video games!"
By Bob Rose