When Scott Shafer took over the head coach at Syracuse, he made a point to welcome any former player back to the program with open arms. During Fan Fest, one former Orangeman, P.J. Alexander was able to check out the latest edition of his alma mater.
"Practice has been entertaining," Alexander described. "They're spirited, they're competitive, they're motivated. Those are the biggest things. I think they understand coaching and what they're being coached to do which is the first step. It's still early on. This team is still growing. They've still got a ways to go and they're improving on everything. They're bringing everything back full circle."
Despite a lot of new related to the Orange this seas, Alexander believes Syracuse could surprise in the ACC this year. That doesn't mean he has unrealistic expectations, however. But he believes the move was necessary for the long-term future of the program.
"Well with the head coach (Scott Shafer) having already been in the system for four years, it's not going to be an all-out drastic change," Alexander said. "We've got to implement his stuff and how he does things. But he's been around here. The competition in the new conference, everyone knows the ACC is a tough conference. It's going to be a challenge for us. But this is good for the future. We're going to get better players, better recruits, and we're going to play better. I expect us to be competitive, as always. I'm not saying we'll go undefeated and win the ACC Championship. But we're going to do well, be competitive, and show up at every game."
As a former player, Alexander cares a lot about the direction of the program. He feels it is in good hands with their new leader.
"I've heard only great things about Coach Shafer," Alexander admitted. "I don't know him all that well. I live in Dallas now and that's a long way from Syracuse. Syracuse coverage isn't great in Dallas. But what I've heard is the coaching staff that he's assembled, they are tremendous. They are very good at their job and know what they're doing."
Alexander spent seven seasons (starting four games in that span) in the NFL after leaving Syracuse. He played for the Saints, Broncos and Falcons from 2002 through 2007. After that, he spent the 2009 and 2010 seasons in the United Football League. He has since retired, but is grateful to the game he loved.
"I am definitely not playing football anymore," Alexander said with a chuckle. "I've run my course in the game. Football was very good to me for a long time. I have now moved on from the game. I'm just a working man living with my wife and children in Dallas. I go to work every day and I'm just enjoying life."
Despite living in Dallas, Alexander is able to keep up with how the program progresses.
"There's always ways to find Syracuse," Alexander explained. "I'm a little upset though. They decide to move to the ACC after I moved from Atlanta a place near every school they play. Now they're far away but I follow them as close as I can. I'm very passionate about this university. It means a lot to me. I still have a giant Syracuse tattoo on my arm. I have to like them forever now."
Alexander remembers his time at Syracuse fondly. He has great memories both on and off the field.
"Our senior class was such a close-knit class," Alexander recalled. "Winning ten games our senior year is something that I take a lot of pride in. Coming back here, I still feel extremely comfortable. Driving on campus and walking to Manley, I still feel extremely comfortable here. It feels like home. I still talk to a lot of the guys. They were some of the best years of my life. I enjoyed it and this was probably the best decision I've ever made coming to school here."
Maybe the most memorable was the 10-2 squad during his senior season. He feels, that despite their on the field success, they were disrespected nationally.
"We were very good that year," Alexander declared. "I remember a lot of things from that year. It meant a lot to us. We rallied around each other as the senior class. We knew we wanted to be good and what it took to be good. We demanded from the rest of the team that they be as good. We were definitely disrespected. I still remember we were supposed to go play Florida State in the Gator Bowl. I wanted to play Florida State being from Tallahassee.
"We got overlooked. But we took that and went out and dominated the Insight.com Bowl. In the end, I think we ended up being a little more respected. We were one of the best teams in the country. Dwight Freeney was unblockable that yea. I had to block him in practice, and not very well. We just had a very strong, passionate, and close-knit group. We're still friends to this day, and that showed on the field."