Originally created 08/30/99

Alexander spending final semester on the field, in the classroom

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Shaun Alexander is leaving nothing to chance.

The Alabama tailback already has his marketing degree, but he's still taking four classes this fall to help him prepare for the future. He's taking a legal documents class and a personal finance class "so I'll always know what I'm signing."

Then there's a golf class for "those business deals on the greens."

The gifted Alexander may have plenty of business to conduct one day. But for now, his deal is football, and the only green on his mind is the grass at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

He made sure of that last January when he passed on entering the NFL draft and returned to Alabama for his senior season.

"I really struggled with the decision. Education wasn't a factor because I was graduating in May and my family is comfortable, so I didn't need the money," he said. "And the idea of being an NFL football player -- think about how awesome that sounds -- was really overwhelming."

In the end, it was his feelings for Alabama that won him over.

"I love this school and I love its tradition," he said. "And we are so close to being one of those teams always mentioned for a national championship, I just had to be part of it."

The decision made Alexander a celebrity in Alabama.

His name had been well-known since 1996, when, as a freshman, he ran for a school-record 291 yards and four touchdowns on just 20 carries against LSU.

Then, last September, his face became equally recognizable when Alabama's new scoreboard was unveiled during the season opening game against BYU.

"They were able to put our pictures up there without our helmets on during that game," Alexander said. "I took one look at it and knew I was finished. From that day on people started recognizing me when they passed me on the street."

And that's when Alexander realized how much he meant to Alabama. That's when the crowds of people seeking his autograph would grow so large police officers would have to break it up. Requests for him to speak at events started coming in by the mailbag.

But it didn't bother Alexander, who realized the attention comes with being the first Alabama player to ever be promoted for the Heisman Trophy.

"People don't always know how to handle attention, but I don't let it bother me," Alexander said. "Few people can sit down and have a group of people write down every single word they say, so I just try to take it all in stride."

Really, attention is nothing new to Alexander. He was president of his class all four years at Boone County (Ky.) High School and was selected Kentucky's "Mr. Football" in 1994.

Now Alexander is on the verge of entering Crimson Tide lore.

He needs only 1,238 yards this season to become the Tide's all-time leading rusher, and he has an overwhelming desire to take the team back to the Southeastern Conference championship game for the first time in three years.

To reward his loyalty, Alabama decided to promote him for the Heisman. It's not an all-out assault, just posters, a CD-ROM and a Web site, but it marks the first time Alabama ever marketed an athlete for the award.

"Shaun Alexander is deserving of that type of attention," said coach Mike DuBose. "Not only because of the things he does on the field but off the field as well. He may mean more off the field as an ambassador to the university than anything else."

When he's not at class or practice, Alexander can be found speaking at any number of functions. Whether it's a Sunday church congregation, or a youth group assembly, he tries to accommodate as many requests as possible.

He spent his summer working out with Cincinnati trainer David Dooley and speaking at Fellowship of Christian Athletes camps. He also volunteered to be a camp counselor at three one-week sessions.

"That's a typical display of Shaun's unselfishness," DuBose said. "He's always willing to give."

That holds over into the Heisman quest. Alexander's name isn't listed on the list of serious contenders for college football's most prestigious award, but he doesn't care. Winning the Heisman trophy wouldn't be for him, anyway.

"If I get it, it's going to be for Bart Starr, for Bobby Humphrey, for Joe Namath, for Derrick Thomas, for Cornelius Bennett and every superstar who gave Alabama 12 national championships that never got a shot at the Heisman," he said. "And it would be for my teammates who helped me get noticed."


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