February 9, 2024

“I’m grateful. I’m honoured and I’m blessed”

It is legend now, one of those stories that gets told at every Winnipeg Blue Bombers free agent workout and on the eve of every training camp.

And it’s a tale that certainly needs repeating now that Brandon Alexander has put his name on a new contract with the club rather than hit the Canadian Football League free-agent market next week.

“It’s funny… I just told somebody that I’ve spent most of my adult years here,” began the West Division All-Star safety in a chat with this week. “I grew up in Orlando, including going to college there, so that’s where I became an adult.

“But I’ve been here since I was 23 and I’ll be 31 this year. Most of my adult years have been here. This came out the way I had it planned. It came to a situation where Winnipeg was still the best choice for me as far as they didn’t want me to leave, and I didn’t want to venture anywhere else.

“It made the most sense to stay with a team that respects me, that loves me, that cares about me. I appreciate that.”

Here’s the tale we hinted at the top, one that says everything about Alexander and how he first cracked the roster, then morphed into a quiet and respected leader all while putting down roots in this town.

Rewind to the spring of 2017 and Alexander – fresh from jumping out at a free agent camp in Florida – was just one of many players attending the team’s rookie camp.

These events can be a whirlwind for every player, with two-a-day sessions featuring one-on-ones and 7v7 situations that can earn a player an invitation to main camp – or a plane ticket back home.

Alexander had already taken a job as a teacher when the opportunity with the Blue Bombers arose and so to say he was at a career crossroads would be a colossal understatement.

What happened next was a testament to his work ethic and his drive – something that had already been evidenced during his days at the University of Central Florida where he earned a full scholarship and was twice nominated for the Burlsworth Trophy awarded to the college football player who began his career as a walk-on.

During the Blue Bombers camp, defensive backs would line up across the secondary – two corners, two halfbacks and a safety – and take reps against receivers. Alexander took a rep at corner and then noticed the line at the inside defensive back positions were thinner. The reason? Many of the newcomers had never seen the Canadian game’s ‘Waggle’ before – the pre-snap motion that gives receivers a running start – and didn’t want to be torched with so many eyeballs upon them.

So, Alexander jumped to the front of the line and took a rep at the weak-side halfback spot. And then the strong-side halfback spot. Then back to corner. And so on and so on and so on…

“I did that for four straight practices,” Alexander recalled. “And then on Sunday we’re all in the defensive meeting room and we’re wondering if we’re going home or coming back for main camp.

“Coach Osh (Mike O’Shea) walks in and says, ‘Where’s No. 26 at?’ That’s the number I wore during the camp. He told me to stand in front of the whole group – I had no idea what he was going to say – and he just said, ‘This guy right here is coming back to camp with us.’ One person asked, why. I guess they already had the film ready, and they turn it on from the past two days I had probably had half the reps. The film would show one person going and then I would go. Then I would go again. Then another person go and I would go again and again. Everybody is sitting there going, ‘Dang…’ Nobody could say anything because regardless of whether I was getting an interception or a knockdown or being beat for a touchdown. Coach said, ‘Yeah, he got beat sometimes. But look at this and tell me this guy didn’t want the opportunity. He was dog tired, but he didn’t care.’

“That’s how my whole life has been written,” Alexander added. “I skipped a grade when I was younger, going from Grade 4 to Grade 6. So, I’ve always been the youngest. I was always the smallest kid, the slowest kid, the shortest kid. And I got picked on because I was short but with big feet.”

“But I was always working to prove I was as good or better than the next kid and I didn’t always prove that through my skills; I proved that by my willingness to out-work everybody. Getting beat as a DB is like falling down in life. You have to get back up. You can’t be on the ground forever. Football is life. I learned a lot of things in life through football.”

Alexander missed half of the 2022 season as he recovered from a knee injury suffered during the 2021 Grey Cup. He returned to start 17 games in 2023, registering 41 tackles and picking off two passes while being named the West Division All-Star safety.

And now he’s back for more after being part of the CFL’s free agent negotiating window for a few days before signing back with Winnipeg on Wednesday.

“It’s true I could have maybe moved someplace else and been doing this. But Winnipeg knows me, where other teams know of me, and I’d have to bring more of that walk-on side of me to show them.

“I’m going into my seventh year now and it’s seven years with the Blue Bombers. A lot of people around the league – maybe besides Jake Thomas – can’t say they’ve been on one team for their whole career like that. I appreciate that.

“I didn’t know where Winnipeg was until 2017, to be honest. To be able to be in a situation like this is cool and I’ll have a story to tell when I’m done. But it’s unfinished right now and I’ve still got years left in me. I’m excited to be back with my guys and my coaches and with a staff who truly appreciates me.”

Alexander’s connection to Winnipeg now goes beyond football, too. He’s engaged to Jessica, a Winnipegger, and the two are expecting a baby boy ‘any day now.’

“I’m grateful. I’m honoured and I’m blessed,” Alexander said. “I’m blessed to still have a contract and be able to play, but even more blessed that I’m able to raise a family in a place I grew up in over these years.”