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Alexander talks adversity, doing things the right way at Chamber Business Before Hours

Alexander talks adversity, doing things the right way at Chamber Business Before Hours

By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information 

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – "There has never been a greater time to get involved with Tennessee Tech." 

Head football coach Dewayne Alexander's words rang true Tuesday morning at the Leslie Town Centre as the Golden Eagle skipper addressed the crowd at the Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce's Breakfast Before Hours event. 

Alexander, Tech Director of Athletics Mark Wilson and University President Dr. Phil Oldham all addressed the assembled membership, expressing the excitement of being back in front of them once more, the booming growth of the University and, oh yeah, getting ready to play a little football. 

"There's a rhythm, a cadence to every season on a college campus," Dr. Oldham said, "and you can feel it beginning to build. We're into August and we're all excited about football and having that as a normal part of our schedule again. You can feel the energy on campus right now as we finish up SOAR and freshman orientation this week." 

There was still the specter of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it affected collegiate athletics over the last 15 or so months and still remains a presence. Alexander credited Oldham's and Wilson's compassion for the welfare of the student-athletes and coaches. 

"They would ask, 'How are they (the student-athletes) doing?' That would get lost during all of this, because there were so many decisions having to be made as to whether we played football or not. I can tell you it's had an impact on our young men, our students over the last year. It's been a crazy, up-and-down year." 

Alexander continued, explaining the timeline of adversity – the team held spring practice for two days before sending everyone home for an extended spring break, couldn't bring them back to campus as the situation worsened, then assistant coach Gerald Howse passes away. 

Visibly shaken, Alexander powered through: "It's something no one ever wants to go through. Our players were gone. Our staff wasn't all together. It's a tough time trying to compartmentalize that and deal with that." 

But that wasn't all of the adversity. There was still the biggest question of whether the team was going to play. Games were scheduled in the fall, but plans changed by the day as different conferences and individual programs enacted new protocols and shifted their schedules. The Ohio Valley Conference elected to postpone its season until the spring. 

"I'm very proud of the OVC," Alexander said. "We were one of the conferences that committed to play – and we played. We played every single football game on our schedule. There were other conferences and teams that played three games, played two games. Some teams started the season then decided not to play. 

"I'm very proud of our guys. They were gritty. They were tough. We didn't know what we were going to be able to put out there week-to-week. They're going to the Putnam County Fairgrounds to get tested every week at 7 a.m., driving through and getting swabbed. I think everybody's nostrils are bigger than they used to be. We had guys that were tested 40, 50 times. They were patient and did it because they wanted to play the game." 

Alexander continued, "I couldn't be prouder of how they represented Tennessee Tech in the spring. They fought hard, they practiced hard every day. They gave us everything they had, even though the troops were thin toward the end of the season. We had a great spring season and we got to play a lot of young guys." 

Dr. Oldham addressed the pandemic, referencing the work the students, parents, faculty and staff put in toward the continued academic success of the University in such trying times. He also noted the completion of three new academic buildings since he was last in front of the membership, as well as a Sept. 10 groundbreaking for a new engineering building.  

"The future is bright for Tennessee Tech," Alexander said. "Dr. Oldham talked about the new facilities. It is awesome to see what's going on. I am a proud alum of Tennessee Tech, graduated in 1988, went on to get my master's degree at Tech, been back here and coached four separate times. There has never been a better time to get involved with Tennessee Tech. I truly believe our best is yet to come. The foundation is built." 

It all comes back to The Golden Eagle Way – the standard that the Tennessee Tech football team seeks to honor and obey. 

"It's in everything we do," Alexander said. "We want a football team that is going to work at a championship-level in everything we do. We want a consistent-caliber football program. That means the OVC championship runs through Cookeville every year. We have won 10 OVC football championships – that's more than any team that's left in the OVC. No one else has won more than that in the current membership. We're not going to sacrifice doing things the right way to do that.  

"We're going to be the best team in the league academically – we've done that, we graduate our football players. Our guys love Tennessee Tech – they contribute to our University, our community. We want to serve our community – many of you, we've been out there to help and serve. We do that for one reason: it's an opportunity to teach these young men what a privilege it is to be a college football player." 

There's a reason why that is important. 

"Only two percent of all high school football players get a chance to play Division I college football," Alexander said. "Only two percent. It increases to six percent when you add in Division II, Division III and NAIA. It's an unbelievable opportunity to impact your community, to grow as a human being and not just have your talents be just for you.  

"We want our young men to represent everyone in this room, we want to represent everyone in Cookeville, Tennessee, we want to represent everyone in our community when we go out there and play. We want people to say, 'That is OUR team.' As a coach, I want to be able to sit in the stands and watch our team play and see a group of guys that play together, enjoy playing, they're excited and they play the game the right way." 

The membership of the OVC certainly feel the Golden Eagles are as the team has won the league's Sportsmanship Award for the last three years, while Jamaal Thompson was named the recipient this past year of the OVC's Steve Hamilton Sportsmanship Award, one of the league's highest honors for a student-athlete with emphasis on leadership, service, academics and athletic success. 

"What does that mean? That means the other coaches and other sports information directors when they watch the Golden Eagles play or are around the Golden Eagles, they say those guys do it the right way. They do it right, they treat officials right, they act right, they play together right. When I have coaching openings, it's amazing to see the number of applicants from people who want to coach here at Tennessee Tech. They see that and they want to be a part of something that is right and good. We want to win, but we want to win the right way. We're in the process of doing that." 

Alexander referenced Tech's win of the 2020-21 Sergeant York Trophy, the round-robin between the in-state OVC schools, and its first since 2009. 

"The next thing is an OVC championship," he said. "The next thing is a(n FCS) playoff win. That's coming. That's happening. We have the young men to do it, we have to community to do it. We have everybody on board to do it. This Fall 2021 team is going to be exciting to watch. You need to come out and see them." 

Camp officially begins today as the team reports and goes through its preliminary meetings. The first practice of the camp slate begins on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. Practice remains closed to the public. 

The Golden Eagles open the 2021 season on Sept. 2 at Samford before returning home on Sept. 11 against Furman. After the Sept. 18 game at Tennessee, Tech opens the OVC schedule with Eastern Illinois on Sept. 25. 

Tickets, including season ticket packages, are available now. Call (931) 372-3940, visit the Hooper Eblen Center ticket office or visit TTUsports.com to order. 

Photo | Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information

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