Alexander focusing only on team goals

Oklahoma senior Rufus Alexander talks about his standing among Oklahoma's great linebackers and the upcoming season. Alexander, who was recently placed on the Butkus Award watch list, led the Sooners a year ago with 102 tackles. (AP Photo)

Oklahoma senior linebacker Rufus Alexander went one-on-one with James Hale before a recent photo shoot for Sooners Illustrated, where the senior from Louisiana will be featured on the cover for the 2006 football preview.

Hale: Rufus, you enter your senior year with so many great things going for you. Just looking back, have you got everything out of your career at OU that you had hoped for?

Alexander: I've got everything and then some. I had some growing pains with the ACL injury. That was a tough time in my life here, but it was a great thing. It taught me a lot. It taught me how you have to have hard work to get something out of your life and career.

I had the greatest experience my whole career here. I mean, I've got a chant (laughs). I've got everything you could ask for. I just love the fans in Oklahoma. It's been a great place for me.

Hale: So you do hear the 'Ruuuuufus' chant during the game?

Alexander: Yeah, I hear it during the game. I mean, it's hard not to hear it. I love it, man. The people here are great. I love the people around town too. It's just a great college feel.

Hale: You've probably got more names than anybody on the team. People call you 'Rufus' or 'Ru' or 'Ruuuuufus'.

Alexander: A lot of people just call me 'Ru'. That's about it. I don't have many others. People that really know me call me by my real name 'Rufus'.

Hale: Let's talk your career so far at Oklahoma. It's to the point that you're being compared against some of the best linebackers to play here. When you view your career from your standpoint, where do you feel you stand among the other greats at OU?

Alexander: It's an honor to even be mentioned with guys like Teddy (Lehman), Torrance (Marshall), Rocky (Calmus), Boz (Brian Bosworth), and all those guys. It's a great honor.

My career has been great. The way I look at it, I just go out there and play the game because I just love playing the game. I don't see it as I'm doing something really great. I'm just doing what I was coached to do and go out there and have a great time doing it.

Hale: Don't you think it means a great deal to be a linebacker at OU? I know other schools try to take that label of Linebacker U., but Oklahoma I think has had as good of linebackers as any school in the country. You can tell that by all the awards that have come their way.

Alexander: Yeah, it is a big deal here. For coach Venables, the linebacker is the heart and soul of the team. The quarterback of the defense.

Other places try to make it that, but over here we have more emphasis on it, I guess you could say. We've won several Butkus' here and have guys that are always up for it like Teddy, Rocky and Torrance. There's a great tradition here and I'm just glad I can keep it going.

Hale: I know you watch a lot of film, so have you watched a lot of film of the great linebackers who have played here like Teddy, Boz and Dante Jones?

Alexander: I've watched a lot of film on Teddy, a little bit on Rocky and Torrance, but mostly on Teddy and Lance when they played here. I just try to take stuff that they did and add a little bit of flavor and my enthusiasm the way I play.

Hale: You're not the biggest linebacker, but you're always around the ball and you defeat all the blocks. You seem to have a great instinct that always gives you the edge on the field.

Alexander: Yeah, it goes with coaching and having a great instinct. Coach Venables is a great coach and he'll try to instill in you how to learn and have more knowledge of the game knowing what the other team's doing before they do it.

Hale: I can tell that you set the defense sometimes and tell the other guys where to go.

Alexander: Yeah, that just goes with repetition in practice. A lot of repetition in just knowing and seeing the stuff during the game. The night before the game, coach Stoops always tells us to visualize yourself making plays. You have that whole mentality going into a game, visualizing the plays before they're being ran.

Hale: Rufus, the defense played a lot better the second half of last season than they did early on. What got you going and why was that?

Alexander: We had growing pains as a team. We were playing a whole lot of snaps and we had new guys out there. Reggie's out there for the first time and we rotated so many people at corner. D.J. (Wolfe) just turned into a cornerback and he had to get comfortable with that position in terms of game speed.

We had a lot of things that was going the opposite way for us in the beginning. Yet C.J. and Thibs (Calvin Thibodeaux), they didn't have much of a rotation at defensive end. We had Dusty (Dvoracek) back there and we had a good interior, but the whole overall defense wasn't flowing good.

Hale: Now, this year you have a plethora of defensive ends and you have an experienced linebacking corp, whereas last year it was inexperienced with Zach (Latimer) getting his first start, and the secondary is going to be more experienced. A year changes the whole temperament of the defense doesn't it?

Alexander: Yeah, we have Larry Birdine, C.J. Ah You, and John Williams coming back. I mean, they are great, great players who are going to make a whole lot of noise this year.

And with guys like that, it only makes my job easier. With Reggie Smith and D.J. Wolfe having their second year back there, guys like that will make the defense a whole lot better.

Hale: What kind of expectations have you set for yourself this year?

Alexander: I really don't set too many expectations for myself. I just want to be a great leader for the young guys so that when I leave they'll step up and be leaders to the other young guys that come in here. That's the only expectation I have for myself, just to teach how coach Venables taught me.

Hale: As far as your hopes for the defense, how good can this defense be?

Alexander: We can be as good as we want to be. As long as we just go in and focus on one play at a time and just execute what we practiced, everything we'll be fine and we'll be a dominating defense.

Hale: The move of Reggie Smith to corner seems to have everybody excited. You've got big safeties that are young coming in, Lendy Holmes has come over and D.J. has a year under his belt. Then you have DeMarcus Granger and Gerald McCoy. You have to be optimistic about some of the young guys?

Alexander: You've got to credit Coach Stoops and Coach V. They know who to go get, what moves to make and when to make the moves. And they made a great move by moving Reggie Smith to corner.

They're coaches. That's what they're coached to do. I don't see that as a surprise. I just say that's great coaching and those guys are great coaches.

Hale: There are a lot of expectations about this team. I don't know how much you guys get caught up in it, but you know you're going to be a contender. But you play a tough schedule. You have to go to Oregon, you have Texas, the Big 12. But you've got a shot don't you?

Alexander: We have a shot. We'll just go out there and take it one game at a time. That's what the coaches say. Take it one game at a time and don't overlook anybody, because the first team that you overlook will come back and bite you in the butt.

Hale: Final question. You grew up in Louisiana, so how does a guy from Louisiana go to Oklahoma and become one of the most popular players in OU history?

Alexander: That's a good question (laughs). I really can't answer that one. You can put a gun to my head and I couldn't answer that one at all. Just give the credit to the fans.

They made me feel welcome and made me feel loved here. I credit that to the fans and everybody around who say my name or just come up and give me a handshake. They don't know how far it goes to a guy coming from Louisiana; just comingup giving them a handshake and saying you played good.

That's one of the things that helped me along, and getting to know the other guys here. The people of Oklahoma made it so much more of an easier transition than you could imagine.


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