— Hal Habib (@gunnerhal) August 18, 2022
MIAMI GARDENS — Cornerback Mackensie Alexander landed with the Dolphins from 1 1/2 hours plus one world away.
He grew up in Immokalee, where as far back as when he was 8, he and his twin brother Mackenro would rise as early as 4 a.m. and head to the fields, helping the family pick tomatoes and oranges.
Now 28, he still works on a field, only the pay is better, the benefits are better and the heat — well, some things never change.
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Alexander answered the Dolphins’ call this week when they needed cornerback help after Trill Williams went down with an ACL injury that will keep him out for the season. Being a veteran of six NFL seasons, mostly with Minnesota, Alexander knows this is an opportunity, nothing more. For now, he’s the guy in the aqua No. 34 jersey — yes, Ricky Williams’ old number — but with no name on the back.
That, he apparently still must earn.
If pedigree and comfort level count for anything anymore, Alexander might make the 53-man roster. He has played 84 NFL games, starting 25. Although he’s still navigating his way around the training facility, the same isn’t true for the area, whether it be his old hometown all the way down to Little Haiti, where he shares a certain fondness for a spicy goat, beans and rice dish with the locals.
Back in Florida with so many familiar faces
As Alexander surveys the Dolphins’ immaculate fields, familiarity abounds.
Over there is defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, his old Clemson teammate, conspiring with him to get coach Dabo Swinney down so they can take a picture together.
Over there, that’s Xavien Howard, a fellow cornerback in the 2016 draft class who went 36th overall, 16 spots ahead of Alexander.
“We've been talking for the last two years, honestly,” Alexander said. “So this is a relationship that we've had and we've got a bond before I got here. He was excited. He was probably one of the first guys that called me.”
And over there, that’s Patrick Surtain. Alexander grew up watching the Dolphins back when Surtain patrolled their secondary. Now, Alexander is coached by him.
“I don’t even know how to explain it,” Alexander said. “You see him, you smile. You know, we’re having conversations and stuff like that. He watched me come out of high school.”
A ‘blessing' to be playing in the area once again
Alexander was a star even then. His twin, Mackenro, soon would become one. He plays Que on the Tyler Perry show “Sistas.” ESPN ranked Mackensie the No. 4 recruit in the country. He was an all-state selection on a state runner-up team at Immokalee High.
“Some people say The Muck, some people say Immokalee, some people say Clewiston,” Alexander said of that section of the state. “And those areas are nitty-gritty areas. But yeah, high school football and the talent that comes around to South Florida is tremendous. It's amazing, man. The fact that I get an opportunity to come in and play football here is another blessing in disguise.”
Although Alexander has spent time in the nickel, he said he’s ready to play the boundary if the Dolphins ask.
“Wherever coach allows me to play,” he said.
Landing in NFL changed life for him, his family
Long before the seven-figure paydays that come with playing in the NFL, Alexander knew the hardship many families in Immokalee endure. His parents came over from Haiti in 1980. More than 20 years later, the family moved into a home built by Habitat for Humanity. Seventeen years after that, Alexander paid it off.
Alexander once told an interviewer his family instilled old-school values in him. When he arrived in Minnesota as a second-round pick, the Vikings weren’t so sure. Alexander and coach Mike Zimmer clashed, with Zimmer calling Alexander “very difficult” to work with. It’s probably why two seasons went by with Alexander appearing in 27 games but starting zero.
Eventually, Zimmer had a talk with Alexander. If you want to know how that turned out, just consider that when Alexander was a free agent after spending 2020 in Cincinnati, the Vikings welcomed him back. Zimmer even told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that Alexander seemed like “a completely different guy.”
Wilkins is just glad to have another Clemson Tiger in the house.
“He works hard,” Wilkins said. “He knows what to do. He brings a veteran presence. And he’s a good player.”
And Alexander knows what it’s like working farming fields vs. football fields. Picking oranges vs. picking off passes.
“Four or five in the morning,” he said of when the workday would begin. “And then go to school right after. That was a routine.”
At least one thing remains constant. As the Dolphins wrapped up Thursday’s workout, the heat index was, in his words, “hot as hell,” reading 103.
“So the heat is kind of the same,” Alexander said. “But I get to really enjoy this process and have fun with it.”
Hal Habib covers the Dolphins for The Post. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: From Immokalee, Mackensie Alexander earns shot with Miami Dolphins