Lorenzo Alexander provided veteran leadership for more than one Buffalo football team this season.
The Bills linebacker and Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee mentored the players at South Park High School throughout the past year. Alexander invited coaches and players out to training camp, made frequent visits to the Sparks’ practices and games, helped to purchase school supplies, equipment and Christmas gifts, and sought to answer any questions they had.
“It’s been the most genuine experience I’ve had with anybody I’ve been around,” South Park coach Tim Delaney said.
At the end of the season, Alexander extended his generosity to Delaney by giving the coach two tickets to this year’s Super Bowl.
“Tim is well-known for the work he’s put in there and I wanted to honor him,” Alexander said. “He does a lot of stuff, going above and beyond just being a coach. Getting kids to school, getting kids to certain places, coming out of his pocket.”
Upon re-signing with the Bills last spring, Alexander worked with the team’s community relations department and the United Way to identify a team in an urban neighborhood to work with.
Growing up in Oakland, Calif., Alexander learned the value mentors can have in an underprivileged community from interactions with two University of California-Berkley graduates who went on to play in the NFL.
“We didn’t have a lot of professional athletes come back and speak to us,” Alexander said. “But I was lucky enough to go to school with Tarik Glenn’s younger brother, Evan, and when Tarik would come back and hang out with Evan, he kind of took me under his wing. I also had a chance to work with Andre Carter when I was ready to go to college.”
Alexander first met with with the South Park team last spring. He gave the players his phone number and encouraged them to keep in contact.
“I felt like if I had the opportunity to give back and work with young men, I wanted to give some of my knowledge of how to get to college, how to be successful, how to play football and make an impact going beyond just my family,” Alexander said.
When the Bills held training camp at St. John Fisher College, Alexander rented a luxury bus to bring some of the players out to visit and spent time interacting with them after practice.
Prior to the start of the season, Alexander gave each player on the team a book bag and gift card to purchase school supplies at Wal-Mart. He also promised to bring new sneakers and receiver gloves to the players later in the season.
“That part blew me away the most and let me know what kind of guy he was,” Delaney said. “It was on a Saturday, he’s got a game the next day, and he’s coming over to drop them off on his way from the facility to the team hotel.”
Alexander also sought to make a personal connection with the players on the team, visiting the school a handful of times to answer questions and provide guidance. He counseled the team after several players chose to kneel during the national anthem.
“Being from Oakland, he understands the urban setting a little bit and the background of where these kids are coming from,” Delaney said.
Alexander’s work with the Sparks is one of the reasons he was not only nominated by his teammates for the Walter Payton Award but also selected as one of 10 finalists for the Athletes in Action Bart Star Award given to an NFL player for his impact in the community.
“It’s a huge honor being nominated for both awards,” Alexander said. “It reinforces that I am on the right path, doing the right things on and off the field, and I’m consistent. It’s not so much about the award. That obviously brings notoriety to what I’m doing for my cause. But for me, it lets me know I’m doing the right things on a day-to-day basis.”
In Delaney’s opinion, Alexander would be a worthy recipient of both awards.
“I couldn’t think of anybody more deserving,” Delaney said.
“I don’t know what goes on in other cities, but I know firsthand that he’s really out on the ground level, putting the work in with real families. He’s doing it with no fanfare and the whole experience has been really great for everyone involved.”