Everyone sees the Kwon Alexander who shoves off blockers, forces fumbles and smashes ball carriers.
They see a speedy LSU linebacker who has some vicious physical ability, a guy one color analyst referred to as “unblockable.”
What they don’t see? A kid who chose LSU to “get away from home,” a person trapped between one of the nation’s most hateful fan bases, a player who’s suffered a broken ankle and torn anterior cruciate ligament.
This is the guy Larry Davidson knows.
“Kwon was one of those special ones,” said Davidson, the athletic director at Alexander’s alma mater, Oxford High in Alabama. “You get them once in a lifetime.”
LSU (5-2, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) enters its game Saturday night against Kentucky (5-1, 2-1) with what just might be the best linebacker in the conference.
Proof: Alexander ranks sixth in the league with 46 tackles — 12 behind the No. 1 guy, Tennessee’s A.J. Johnson — despite missing one complete game and playing just two series of another.
In LSU’s media guide, released before the season, Alexander is described as “one of the most overlooked players in the SEC.”
Overlooked? Halfway through the season, not a chance.
“Their linebacker from Alabama, he’s probably the best linebacker that we’ve played to this point,” Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown said earlier this week. “He’s very talented. He strikes you. He runs well.”
Alexander leads LSU in tackles — six more than No. 2 defensive end Danielle Hunter — while playing nearly two games fewer than anyone else. He’s led LSU in tackles in four of the five games he’s played healthy, and he has 3½ tackles for loss, second on the squad.
That position move sure looks good now. Alexander requested a move from strongside linebacker to weakside over the offseason, and defensive coordinator John Chavis obliged.
The weakside linebacker plays closer to the line of scrimmage than the strongside linebacker, where Lamar Louis spends much of his time in coverage or on the outside.
“I like to tell Kwon he gets a lot more action than I do,” said Louis, who played weakside linebacker last season behind Lamin Barrow.
Alexander is the perfect fit at weakside. He has a pension for avoiding blocks. He dodges them, slides past them and shoves blockers to one side or the other. He runs over them and he runs past them.
“Unblockable,” ESPN color analyst and former Florida quarterback Jesse Palmer called Alexander during LSU’s 30-27 win last week.
“Speed and physicality,” coach Les Miles said to explain Alexander’s play.
Alexander is a true definition of the oft-used term “ball hawk.”
That started in a small town in northeast Alabama — Oxford. He played basketball, ran track and, of course, played football for Oxford.
He was part of a string of players from the school to sign major Division I scholarships: defensive lineman Allan Carson (Tennessee), defensive back Trae Elston (Ole Miss) and running back Roc Thomas (Auburn).
Alexander tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee early during his senior year. Still, not many major schools dropped off in recruiting him. That’s how stellar he was as a sophomore and junior, Davidson said.
“He just had a knack for tracking the ball and making plays at the ball,” Davidson said. “Plays away from him.”
Alexander chose LSU over Auburn and Alabama, two in-state schools embroiled in what many believe is the nation’s fiercest rivalry.
“When you’re here in Alabama, you’re either Alabama or Auburn,” Davidson said. “Alabama folks wanted him to go to Alabama and the Auburn folks wanted him to go to Auburn. He weighed all things down.”
Alexander now says he chose LSU because he “wanted to get away from home.”
“LSU fit well, fit me better,” he said.
On the team, Alexander is known as a quiet guy who leads — mostly — by example.
Alexander is known as the guy with “nasty” hair, said fellow weakside linebacker Deion Jones.
Jones, who has helped show Alexander the ropes at weakside, has short hair, cropped low.
Alexander sports a thick black head of hair.
“I told him he should try the bald look,” Jones said laughing. “I think that’d fit him.”
Alexander broke his ankle as a true freshman in 2010 a game at Florida, memories that came surging back last week in a performance against the Gators that included 10 tackles and a pass breakup that led to the game-changing interception.
Alexander slammed into Florida receiver Latroy Pittman in the final minute of the game. Pittman, running a slant route directly for Alexander, coiled up and dropped the pass upon expecting the hit.
The ball popped into the air, careened off of Pittman’s helmet and landed in the arms of safety Rickey Jefferson. That set up Colby Delahoussaye’s game-winning 50-yard field goal.
“I looked to my left and I saw the slant,” Alexander said. “I was like, ‘OK, I might can hit him and cause a fumble or something.’ I read it, lowered my shoulder and that’s when I hit him. I didn’t even know the ball was in the air.”
Davidson wasn’t surprised. It’s much of the same from this ball hawk.
“Just a guy,” he said, “who makes fantastic plays.”