If asked to describe Bills Pro Bowl linebacker and special teams ace Lorenzo Alexander, words like hardworking, determined and talented may come to mind. A loving father, devote husband, trusted friend, respected voice in the locker room and an advocate in the community, Alexander is everything a professional athlete strives to be. But just like each of us tasked with navigating our way through life, Alexander has endured his fair share of ups and downs.
What some may not know is that Alexander's story extends far beyond the confines of the football field. And if it weren't for his courage, perseverance and unrelenting will to succeed, it's a story that may have had a different ending.
Beaming with pride as he accepted the 2017 Call to Courage Award in downtown Buffalo, on Saturday, March 25, Alexander explained that his unique experiences helped shape him into the man he is today. Founded in 2001 by former Bills quarterback Frank Reich, the annual Call to Courage Awards Breakfast seeks to honor athletes who exemplify excellence in three distinct areas: character, commitment and community. As the second Buffalo Bills player to receive the award, it's easy to see why Alexander was selected.
Growing up in the inner city of Oakland, Calif., Alexander was faced with adversity at an early age. Raised by his mother, a single parent who worked tirelessly to provide for her son, and his Uncle Steven Moore, Alexander's journey—though far from conventional—was set in motion.
"…[it dates] back to my mother who is a single parent, raising a young man in the inner city of Oakland, Calif. during the '80s and '90s when the gang and drug violence was at perhaps its highest," said Alexander. "Building that great foundation, sacrificing for me, showing me what it meant to work hard and provide. Providing me with my uncle, Steven Moore, who showed me what it looked like to raise a family, [to be] a great husband [and to] give back by coaching…"
Despite having positive role models in his life, Alexander admits that he struggled internally to find deeper meaning.
"Often times we're off-center…and I lived like that for a long time," said Alexander. "[I was] living for me and really just searching for that instant gratification… [but] everything happens for a reason."
At this point in his career, success on the field had not translated into true happiness in his personal life. Finding himself at a crossroads, Alexander sought to understand his bigger purpose.
In 2007, during his stint with the Washington Redskins, he met a group of men who showed him how to not only make an impact on the field, but to succeed in every area of his life. Chief among them were Antwaan Randle El, Renaldo Wynn, Kendric Golston and James Thrash.
"It really made me look internally as far as what I was looking for and how was I living," said Alexander. "Who was I impacting? Was the NFL just for me? Was all this money or resources I had at my disposal just for me? Often during those years I would wake up…feeling empty…feeling that I was meant for more. And I saw in Antwaan, James, Kendric and other men on our team that they had real joy and real happiness."
This was truly a defining moment for Alexander – a moment of spiritual awakening that would alter his life forever.
"I changed my mindset, my motivation," said Alexander. "I think Frank [Reich] said it best, 'No man alone can change his habits.'"
Armed with a newfound outlook on life, an unwavering work ethic and the love and support from his friends and family, especially his wife Manjanique, Alexander was able to move forward. No longer were road bumps viewed as a deterrent, but rather a challenge to be met with an open mind – even in his most trying times.
Now a household name in Western New York, it's hard to believe that just one season ago Alexander took the field for the first time in a Bills uniform. Making stops in four different cities during his tenure, the longtime 'journeyman' had considered retiring from the game he loved before landing in Buffalo. Needless to say, it's a good thing he didn't.
Stringing together the best performance of his career in 2016, Alexander has found a home with the Bills. His effort on the field is equally matched by the work he does in the WNY community and around the country. The proud creator of the ACES Foundation, Alexander and his team help young men and women to make a difference. Through mentorship, Alexander seeks to inspire the youth to obtain higher education, pursue a career and ultimately achieve their dreams.
At 34 years old, the 11-year veteran will courageously enter the 2017 season ready to exceed expectations and defy the odds, both on and off the field.