EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —Long before Mackensie Alexander impressed NFL scouts, he caught the eye of an NFL player.
Alexander was working out at his high school football field in Immokalee, Florida, when former alumnus, Miami Hurricanes star and four-time Pro Bowler Edgerrin James passed by.
"The first thing, he was impressed, I'll never forget it," Alexander explained Friday on the first day of a three-day rookie minicamp at Winter Park. "He said, 'You don't see kids like you working like this anymore, and he gave me [a pair of his football] gloves and told me to just keep working hard and you'll achieve your dreams.' I just kept working hard and pushing myself to get to this point."
The Vikings second round pick of the 2016 NFL Draft earned the opportunity to play at Clemson and opted to declare for this year's draft after three years and two seasons with the Tigers. He and the rest of Minnesota's eight player draft class, which includes former Clemson teammate Jayron Kearse participated in meetings, a walkthrough and a practice with undrafted rookies and players who were offered tryouts.
Kearse, a safety from Fort Myers, Florida, who was selected Saturday in the seventh round, has known Alexander since youth leagues.
"It's a good relationship," Alexander said. "We're both competitive and like to compete. He's just a good guy, smart, has got a lot of athletic ability. I'm happy to be with him again."
Clemson is where, Kearse said, he really learned about his former roommate.
"It was probably my freshman year. We didn't even have a workout with the team yet," Kearse recalled. "We didn't have cleats or anything. He had us running up the hill with no cleats, slipping, falling, looking bad. That's when I realized, I mean, I actually said, 'This dude is crazy.' "
Call him crazy, or committed, maybe even crazily committed, but the bottom line is hard work worked.
Alexander was born to Haitian parents. He and his twin, Mackenro, joined their parents to help pick oranges and tomatoes in their community that has a large population of migrant workers. Mackensie continued to help in the days leading up to the draft, and the long days were chronicled in a feature on SportsCenter.
Alexander was asked about the feature and said, "At the end of the day, that story wasn't about me. It's for my town and my community, everybody who's fought and worked hard."
"It's about sharing my story and letting everybody know how it is down there, what work is like and what life is like, especially the Haitians and the Mexicans and people who actually do the migrant work in the fields and the lifestyle down there," Alexander added. "That's what it was about, sharing that story."
Their first day at the sport's highest level was a sign of how far their talents have brought them from Southwest Florida, even if the temperature in the Twin Cities reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The 20-degree differential above average locally for May 6, is one above the average for Immokalee and two above usual for Fort Myers.
No matter where they go from here, however, they'll remember their roots.
Earlier this week, Alexander **worked out a deal** with Adidas to provide $10,000 in shoes for the Collier County Boys & Girls Clubs because he wanted to impact others the way James, who ranks 11th all-time with 12,246 career rushing yards, impacted him.
View images of the Vikings 2016 rookie class signing their contracts.
"I know how it was when I was a child," Alexander said. "Knowing how I felt and how these kids are going to feel, it's going to be good, just having somebody to follow. There's a lot of people in America that are successful that don't come back home. It's about sharing, but they don't show their face, and the kids don't know who they are. They don't have anybody to look after them, and that's when you've got problems of kids being bad or going to jail, not doing positive things. I just want them to look at me as a positive outlet."
Kearse also has previously been impacted by NFL players. He is the nephew of former Titans/Eagles defensive end "The Freak" Jevon Kearse and a cousin of Phillip Buchanon. Kearse said his three-time Pro Bowl uncle's advice was, "to be a pro in everything I do, whether that's on the field or off the field – just carry myself like a professional."
He and Alexander know they'll have each other as they learn and develop. Kearse said Alexander "brings the best out of me, so I'm glad I have the opportunity to play with him again. It's going to make me a better player."
Alexander seemed cool and calm in his first session with reporters. Asked if it had hit him yet that he's in the NFL, he said, "No, not yet. I'm just focused on playing ball."
"Most people, it's a shock to them I worked so hard to be here, so for me, the transition is like, I get the transition," Alexander said. "It's more about ball. You can't get the money stuff involved in that. You've got to keep it simple, keep playing football. That's when you'll flourish and keep growing."
View photos Vikings second round draft pick Clemson CB Mackensie Alexander.