Dan Alexander joined the Huskers in 1996 as a scholarship fullback, but eventually switched to I-back. At 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, Alexander came to NU from Wentzville, Missouri.
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The following Q&A ran in The World-Herald on Oct. 28, 2016.
LINCOLN — Tom Osborne wanted to have Dan Alexander go out into the community with some Nebraska players as part of his recruiting visit, but made sure to warn Alexander about his companions for that service project.
“He told me they were a little rough around the edges, a little crazy, but said, ‘I think you’ll have a good time,’ ” Alexander said.
The next day, Alexander found himself alongside Grant Wistrom and Jason Peter, first helping with lunch at a Lincoln homeless shelter and then over to see patients at the St. Elizabeth Regional Medical Center burn unit.
Besides getting an introduction to charismatic future teammates — who were rough around the edges and a little crazy — Alexander got an early look at the platform he would have as a student-athlete at Nebraska. It would blend well later with the outlets he would find for his faith as a Husker.
“I fell into that full force,” Alexander said.
Twenty years later, Alexander assists his wife with the Refuge Center for Counseling, which she co-founded in Franklin, Tennessee. The 38-year-old previously spent time as executive director of the Franktown Open Hearts in the Nashville area.
All of which he traces back to his time at Nebraska, where he gained a reputation for being one of the Huskers most active in the Life Skills program. Among his influences were Osborne and NU assistants Turner Gill and Ron Brown.
“I fell in love with giving back,” Alexander said. “I fell in love with being available to the community.”
Alexander also would succeed on the field after coming from Wentzville, Missouri. The sometimes 250-pound I-back rumbled for 2,456 yards and 20 touchdowns between 1997 and 2000 while splitting time with Correll Buckhalter. He was MVP of the 2000 Alamo Bowl after running for an NU bowl-record 240 yards against Northwestern.
After being a sixth-round draft pick, he played parts of three seasons in the NFL before six years in the Arena League.
Q: You always killed it on the Performance Index. Did you look forward to the testing?
A: Definitely. Growing up, I had always been interested in physical fitness. Once I got to Nebraska, I was surrounded by people knowledgeable on that subject. Challenging my body and just trying to beat my numbers definitely became a hobby or obsession in college.
Q: Any specific testing mark that you were most proud of?
A: For me, I always wanted to be a jack of all trades. I was never the fastest person in any one thing or the strongest, but personally what I took pride in was being as fast and agile and strong as I could be for that size.
Q: Because of your size, were you always hearing that you should be playing another position?
A: My older brother went to the same high school and played running back, so I was kind of molded into that. But I was too big. Guys were smaller and faster than me, and frankly better than me. I played fullback, but even as a fullback I always loved to run, and typically at the end of the season I always had more yards than the running back.
Q: How about at Nebraska?
A: They had me at fullback my redshirt year, and had me some at linebacker, but I believe it was at the Orange Bowl when Osborne and (Frank) Solich took me aside and told me they wanted to start trying me at I-back. So at the Orange Bowl, I was doing scout team, pretending to be the running back for the other team, and I think that just kind of carried over into the next spring.
Q: And you were on board?
A: Yeah, because I love to run. And who doesn’t want to be an I-back at Nebraska? I just said please and I said thank you.
Q: Ever feel bad running over a 185-pound defensive back?
A: Um, no. From the very beginning, Osborne made it clear that’s what my role was. There were times on film, from a practice or game, where I’d run around somebody or try to make a move. Osborne would be like, “Dan, see where you’re trying to run around this guy? Just run him over.” That was what I was called upon to do.
Q: What I-back in the system did you maybe study or want to be like when you got to Nebraska?
A: I knew from the very beginning I wasn’t the prototypical back at Nebraska, and I never pretended to be a traditional running back. I feel like they created a role for me. I tried to do everything that everybody else would do, but that wasn’t my skill set. I don’t know what I’d have to do to be an Ahman (Green) or Lawrence Phillips or DeAngelo Evans or Correll Buckhalter. I just knew that wasn’t me.
Q: Did you take some grief leaving Missouri for such a Big Eight/Big 12 rival?
A: I did, I did. And they recruited me pretty hard. The Missouri head coach at the time (Larry Smith) came to my house, and was there with my parents, and said, “You owe it to your family and yourself and the state of Missouri to go to Mizzou.” Truthfully, me and my mom and the rest of my family took offense to that. I did get some grief, but at the time, Nebraska was so successful and thought so well of that a lot of people would say, “Duh, of course he’s going to go there.”
Q: Safe to say that you savored going 4-0 against the Tigers?
A: I did, but the way it always worked out, I either never got to play or never had a good game against Missouri. Obviously in ’97 it probably forced us into splitting the national championship. They didn’t get the best of us, but at the same time it didn’t feel like we were leaving with a win.
Q: There was a quote from Mack Brown before the 1999 Big 12 championship game about you potentially being among the preseason Heisman Trophy candidates for 2000. Do you remember hearing that and what did you think?
A: I did hear it, and really that’s when I maybe realized that going into the NFL was a possibility. I was always this ’tweener guy. NFL offenses don’t fit a guy like me. Literally, it wasn’t until some of that Heisman talk that I was like, “Wait a minute, maybe I could.”
Q: Did you see anything like that 66-17 win over Northwestern coming in that 2000 Alamo Bowl?
A: There was a lot of talk from their side, but we didn’t talk a lot. The coaches told us not to. But we watched them on film and we knew what we could do. You can tell by watching people on film, and you always think you can beat anybody, but actually we probably played better than we even thought.
Q: Who was the most crazy athlete you ever were around?
A: In college, I was there with (Kyle) Vanden Bosch, and he was just a freak of nature. Not only was he a freak physically, but he was a person of ultimate focus. He was somebody who achieves whatever he sets out to do. And followed in the vein of Grant Wistrom. (Wistrom was) not quite as intense as Vanden Bosch, but somebody who imposed their will on the world around them. In the NFL, I played with Jevon Kearse, somebody who physically you just couldn’t imagine he could do the things with his body that he could do.
Q: After being a high school state heavyweight champ, did you ever think you could wrestle at the college level?
A: During the offseason, I’d go roll around with the wrestling team on occasion, and I continued to do that. I think it was after my second or third season, they had an injury to their heavyweight and so the wrestling coach approached me, or the team did, and said, “Hey, you could be the heavyweight.” He went and asked Solich ... and Solich at the time didn’t even know I was doing it. He said, “You can’t do that. You already blew out your ACL. That ain’t safe.” But honestly, wrestling was my favorite sport. I love football and the opportunities it provided for me and my family, but if there was some kind of legitimate professional wrestling league, I’d have done that.
Q: There is a professional wrestling league, right?
A: That’s why I said legitimate.
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