Talks with Hawks: Episode 25 – Jesse and Josh Alexander

The Alexanders were a couple of local guys who had distinguished careers at Laurier. Josh played D-Line from 2000 to 2003 and was a 2nd team OUA All star once and a 1st team OUA All Star twice. Later on, he coached O-Line and special teams at WLU. Jesse played from 2002 to 2006. He was a two time OUA champion and a key member of the 2005 Vanier Cup squad. In 2004, he was a 1st team OUA All Star and a 2nd team All Canadian. In 2006, he was a 1st team OUA and 1st team All Canadian. During that year, he was also selected the Team MVP, the WLU Athlete of the Year, and the OUA Defensive MVP. In 2011, he was inducted into the Laurier Hall of Fame. As if that wasn’t enough, he was selected to the Laurier Team of the Century as well. Jesse is currently in his 2nd stint coaching at WLU after brief stops at York and Windsor. I met  them in 2011 and I consider them both to be good friends. When Jesse left WLU after the 2016 Yates Cup win, I threw a goodbye party for him at the Huether Hotel. Access to the party room was delayed by, of all things, a Nerd Convention! Yes, you read that right!  You can’t make that kind of stuff up! It literally was an event with that specific title.

The irony of a party for a football guy being attended by a bunch of other football guys being delayed by a Nerd Convention made me think of this classic movie scene:

You may have noticed the ‘A’ on the guy’s shirt in that movie scene! Perhaps that was a third long lost Alexander brother that I’ve never met. Jesse is also the only guy I have interviewed that has a picture of me up on a wall in his house. I remember visiting him in Toronto soon after he got hired by York. There was a picture of us up on his wall, but no pictures of him and his roommate, which just happened to be his girlfriend!  I reminded him of that during this interview.

Dave Morrissey: Why did you choose to come to Laurier?

Josh Alexander: I had been playing on a Team Ontario squad when I was 16 and I was starting to get a lot of attention from a number of schools. I ended up meeting with Coach Zmich. I liked the school and the business program and I liked the idea of playing in my home town.

Jesse Alexander: There were 2 reasons. I wanted to play with my brother. Me and my brother are only 11 months apart, but due to academic issues, I didn’t start at Laurier until two years after him. We got to play together for 2 years at Laurier. As well, I wanted to play for Coach V who was my coach in high school. He transitioned me from D-Line to fullback and linebacker.

Dave: Josh, did you influence Jesse to come to Laurier?

Josh: Jesse saw the fun I was having at Laurier. He got to meet some of the guys that I’d been playing with. It was awesome playing together. He always better than me and faster than me.  We didn’t get to play a ton together because I was a couple years ahead of him but to watch what he accomplished was fantastic.

Dave: So Jesse, I see you were an all star selection in 2004 and 2006. What the heck happened to you in 2005?

Jesse: I came into the regular season a bit injured and I got off to a slow start, but I was never really one for stats. I’d much rather have a Vanier Cup than any individual award.

Dave: Josh, can you tell me about your football experiences in the USA?

Josh: I went to an American Football Coaches Convention in 2004 in Orlando.  I handed out a bunch of resumes and a couple of months later I got a call from Mississippi College and I got a graduate assistant position assisting with the O-Line and then Tight Ends.  After that, I ended up coaching football at a high school in Alabama. The awe of football is incredible down there.

Dave: Was there ever a moment on the football field, either in high school or in university, where either you or your brother had someone take a cheap shot at you where the other brother then got involved?

Jesse: I don’t remember that ever happening. The Alexanders were always the talk of the league and people didn’t want to mess with us; they knew what would happen!               (Editor’s Note: It was difficult, but I managed to find a long lost video clip of a young Jesse Alexander on the gridiron)

Dave: What was the angriest that you’ve ever been on a football field?

Josh: A lot of people might tell you that I was usually angry on the sidelines most of the time, but I am generally a very happy guy. I do remember once in a high school game that I was coaching. I called a play and we weren’t doing very well and my young QB, who later went on to win 2 championships, was kind of doing his own thing and he didn’t do what I told him to do. I remember calling the entire O over to the sideline. The game was at Laurier and we were on the far side of the field and I really lit into them using some very colourful language about doing their jobs and following instructions.

Dave:  Okay, let’s play ‘How well do you know your own statistics’?  How many career interceptions, forced fumbles, and fumble recoveries did you have?

Jesse: I know I had 6 interceptions because I could tell you about all of them off by heart right now!  In terms of forced fumble fumbles and fumble recoveries, I would say 4 and 2.

Dave: Jesse, for a guy that said he didn’t care about stats, I am so impressed. You got all 3 of those exactly right! It’s like you’ve been reciting them as a nightly positive reinforcement mantra for almost 15 years. Some people recite prayers before they go to bed, you must recite your stats!

Josh: I don’t know, maybe 3 or 4 forced fumbles and 3 or 4 fumble recoveries.

Dave: Actually, it was two of each. Clearly, you care less about stats then your brother Jesse!

Dave: Okay guys, who was the most difficult opponent that you had to face?

Jesse: It would have to be Andre Durie from York.  (Editor’s Note: Durie played at St. Joseph’s High School in Mississauga, but one year they didn’t have football, he came over to play at my high school STFX.  Sadly, I was coaching junior (and he was senior age) so I didn’t get to coach him). He was an amazing running back, powerful, fast, and shifty. I also really looked forward to playing another RB, Jesse Lumsden from McMaster. I always wanted to show people who the ‘better Jesse’ was.

Josh: Jamie Hitchen was the toughest player by far that I had to compete against in practice. He was one of the strongest, quickest big guys that I had ever seen.  I’d watch film from practice and over and over again, you’d see him just driving me backwards. He was also super nice too.  After each time he’d blow me away, he’d say ‘Good job Josh’ just to encourage me.

Dave: Jesse, I have to ask you about your experiences playing Coach Faulds when he was the quarterback at Western.  What do you remember about those experiences?  Was there ever any verbal sparring with him during games?

Jesse: Funny that you ask about that. First off, he never beat Laurier when we played him. Michael always struggled when he played us. Secondly, I do remember sacking him twice in one game. Unfortunately, they weren’t exactly ‘kill shots’, but I did get him twice!  I am uncertain if there was ever any ‘sh*t talk’ between me and Faulds during games, but there sure was a lot of it between me and some of the other Western players. I loved to do that! I have to admit that it was kind of awkward at first when Faulds was hired as the Head Coach at Laurier in 2013. I had been here coaching LBs and some special teams for a few years already and then this Western guy comes in here!  But seriously, Faulds is a great dude who cares about people and wants the best for the program. It’s been a pleasure to work with him. (Editor’s Note: Vanier Cup Championships– Alexander 1, Faulds 0, Yates Cup Championships—Alexander 2, Faulds 2, Yates Cup MVPs—Faulds 2, Alexander 0).

Dave: Jesse, I am really enjoying a lot of your answers. I never knew you were so cocky.

Jesse: I’m not cocky, I’m just super confident.

Dave: Name a Laurier player from a different era that would’ve like to play with.

Jesse: I would go with Rich Payne. He would’ve been great to play beside to compare myself to him. He’s the only Laurier player to ever win the National Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Josh: I couldn’t just pick one. I’d have to go with three. First off, I’d pick Stef Ptaszek. He was a phenomenal player and that translated into an ability to be an amazing coach. I love his competitive nature and his will to win. The next one would be Courtney Stephen. I was fortunate to get to coach him for a bit, but he was too good for Canada (and I mean that of course as a huge compliment) and ending up going to play at Northern Illinois and he has had a successful CFL career.  Finally, Dillon Heap was another guy that I got to coach for a bit. He was one of the purest football players I ever saw. He had great vision. Undersized, but fast, shifty, and an incredible receiver and returner

Dave: It was interesting for me to see that there is a Wikipedia page about you Jesse!  But they have a key fact wrong. What is that?

Jesse: Well, it is correct when it says I was drafted by Saskatchewan. After going to their camp, I came back and played a 5th year at WLU.  They cut me in 2007 and I got picked up by the Argos and played a bit for them, the Wikipedia page says I played for Hamilton. That is wrong.

Dave: Tell me how you started coaching at Laurier.

Jesse: In 2007, after I got released by the Argos I fired off a message to Coach Jeffries asking him if he needed any help. He offered me the scout team defensive position. I think the best part of coaching is watching the players grow and develop over 4 or 5 years. Losing as a coach is hard to deal with, but losing as a player was even worse. I’m a very competitive person.

Josh: When I came back from the USA, I approached Coach Jeffries and told him I would do whatever he needed. He brought me on board to coach O-Line and special teams.  I owe a lot to him. I am proud to say that 5 guys I coached at O-Line went on to play at the next level.  As a player, my most memorable moments on the field would be in my rookie year when I got put into a game vs Western. It was rainy and muddy and the field was in terrible conditions and I got the heck beat out of me.  Losing a Yates Cup to Waterloo was also memorable.  The stadium was sold out and the excitement was incredible. The biggest difference between coaching high school and university is the competitive nature and the overall complete ‘buy in’ you get at the university level.  You don’t have to chase guys to come to practice, hand in paperwork, etc. You have to get back to the basics at the high school level and it is enjoyable to watch players learn and improve.

Dave: You’ve heard of ‘word association’?  Let’s play ‘numerical association’.  What is the significance of these numbers:  143 and 65?

Jesse: I will guess those are my career solo and assisted tackles

Dave: Says the guy who says he never cared about stats (laughing)!  No man, you are way off! That is the combined score of 3 Laurier victories over Jesse Alexander coached teams at Windsor and York from 2017 to 2019!

Jesse: How the hell was I supposed to guess that? This interview is over (laughing)!

Dave: Jesse, how much satisfaction did it bring to you when Nakas Onyeka won the OUA defensive player of the year award in 2016, ten years after you won it?

Jesse: I was super excited! To be able to coach him right from the start to see what he became was amazing. He was such a playmaker. He was a special player and a leader and that’s why he’s in the CFL right now.

Dave: Recently, the 2005 Vanier Cup was broadcast and I know you watched at least part of the game. What were your thoughts watching it?

Jesse: My thoughts are we should have kicked their ass!  The game shouldn’t have even been close.

Dave: So imagine you are in a tough spot that you have to fight your way out of.  What two former teammates would you want watching your back?

Jesse: Derek Medler and Brandon Keks.  Medler was an animal. Keks was crazy. I remember a game vs Ottawa. Keks had a cast on his hand and he was beating a dude with it. It was awesome

Josh: If I was going to war, I’d have to bring along my fellow D-Line crew: Justin Shakell, Tony Bretney, Matt Kruchak, and Kevin MacNeill too, he was a wannabe defensive linemen. I love all those guys.

Dave: Josh, I know you played D-Line and have spent a lot of time coaching O-Line.  What would you happen if one your sons came up to you and said he wanted to be a kicker?

Josh: If my kid came to me and told me he wanted to be a kicker, I’d tell him that 22 out of 32 kickers in the NFL are making at least a million dollars a year! I would go out and buy him kicking tees, kicking nets, and the best shoes I could find so he could become the best kicker he could possibly be!

Dave: Hey Josh, I know your brother is a big Buffalo Bills fan.  He was ranting and raving online the other day when they were playing poorly vs the Jets.  Are you a Bills fan too?

Josh: If your last name is Alexander, you are born and bred a Buffalo Bills fan. I even remember a grade 7 family studies project where I sowed a giant Buffalo Bills pillow. (Editor’s Note: I asked Josh if he still had that pillow, but unfortunately he did not).  I grew up loving those classic Bills teams with Bruce Smith, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Steve Tasker, and Darryl Talley. My dad’s side of the family is all from Buffalo. My grandfather used to work at the old War Memorial Stadium.

Jesse: When my dad was a little kid, he used to wait outside the stadium to get autographs from Buffalo Bills players.

Dave: Well, maybe when the pandemic ends, me and you and Jesse can go tailgating at a Bills game and I can watch you jump through some tables, BillsMafia style!

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