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Road to the NFL: Lorenzo Alexander, from undrafted free agent to Pro Bowler

By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider

For Lorenzo Alexander, now an outside linebacker with the Buffalo Bills, NFL Draft weekend 2005 was nerve-wracking. Anticipating his name being called, Alexander waited through all seven rounds, sleeping little, if at all, to no avail. At one point, the Oakland native and product of the University of California, Berkeley had even been called by a team and told that he would be their next pick.  They picked someone else. “That was the worst two days of my life,” he said.

However, as soon as the Draft ended, Alexander was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Carolina Panthers where he spent his rookie year on the practice squad. For the next few years, Alexander bounced around a bit going from the Panthers to the Baltimore Ravens and finally to the Washington Redskins. Coaches continually told him that while his talent was there, at 6’1” he was, “too short, too small.”

“At some point, you’ve got to make a decision [about whether to keep trying],” he said. “Is it worth it? Am I ever going to break through? Every guy’s situation is different. Some guys have kids and they can’t wait. They have to find something that more secure than playing football. Luckily that wasn’t my situation and I had a good support system.”

During one particularly frustrating five-week period in which he flew around the country meeting with teams, he briefly contemplated throwing in the towel and heading to law school, which has been his initial post-college plan. But with help from that support system, in 2008, things finally started to fall into place.

Just one play suddenly highlighted Alexander, and his overall work ethic and fortitude to his coaches in Washington.

“It was the preseason and we were playing Tennessee,” he recalled. “I made an inside pass rush move. I got my helmet knocked off and I caught a little friendly fire and got a gash on my face, but I kept playing and that catapulted me in the organization.”

Although playing on both the defensive line and at linebacker, Alexander made his name on special teams and in 2012 he received his first Pro Bowl nomination.

“It was surreal,” he said. “You dream about it and then it comes to fruition You’re going with all these great players from around the league and you think, ‘Do I belong with these guys? I’m just a teamer, I’m not the face of the team.’ It’s a surreal place and you’re part of this elite group.”

And in 2016, his first season as a member of the Bills, Alexander earned his second Pro Bowl selection, this time as a linebacker.

Early on in his career, Alexander realized that in achieving his dreams, he could, in turn, help others and in 2008 he founded his ACES Foundation. ACES stands for Accountability, Community, Education and Sports and provides enrichment programs to children while encouraging them to live up to the foundation’s four key words. 

“I grew up in a single parent home, but my mom’s brother took the time out and away from his family to help raise me,” Alexander said. “I had coaches who helped me create a solid foundation. There’s a lot of gang violence and I had all these people pouring in me to stay successful. So, when I was able to give back, I wanted to provide that same stability and support to other young kids. Information, access and some sort of mentorship to not just tell them, but show them and connect with them.”

Looking back, Alexander couldn’t be happier that he was able to stay the course and solidify his NFL career. And he continues to take advantage of everything the NFL platform offers him. He is now turning his attention to educating and informing himself on what post-football opportunities there might be. Alexander took part in the NFL’s Sports Journalism and Radio boot camp in 2016 and found the chance to learn and hone his writing skills invaluable, especially because as he discovered, entering into a job in the media entails more than initially meets the eye.

“A lot of guys don’t know what it takes so I wanted to put myself around people in the business,” he said. “I’m just dabbling right now. The writing piece, most guys don’t write so to be able to be thrown into that fire was awesome.”

Alexander also makes sure to focus on the big picture of opportunities that being in the NFL offers.

“It’d be a shame to play in this league this long and not having anything fruitful that’s going to benefit me. I’m creating real relationships that will last a lifetime.”



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