Nov. 17—On the final day of last year's early signing period, the Idaho football team inked three-star linebacker Xe'ree Alexander from Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien, Wash.
Alexander's arrival to Moscow was a major headline, as the former Class 4A North Puget Sound League defensive player of the year was originally committed to the Pac-12's Arizona State.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound linebacker decommitted from the Sun Devils on Dec. 8 after coach Kenny Dillingham took over for Herm Edwards, who was fired during the regular season.
Despite getting recognition from several teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision ranks, it was the Vandals of the Football Championship Subdivision who won the Alexander sweepstakes.
"The coaching staff stuck with me even though I committed to Arizona State," Alexander said. "Coach (Rob) Aurich and Coach (Jason) Eck basically texted me every single day. I appreciated that."
Alexander was on the Vandals' radar early, attending several of their camps during the summer.
"I think we were really fortunate to get him here," Idaho coach Jason Eck said. "Xe'ree is a Pac-12-caliber player, and I think our staff did a good job of staying in touch with him. ... He had some thoughts after signing day of maybe waiting until late signing day to see what had happened, and we were able to convince him that this is a great place for him, and it's worked out."
The coaching staff's belief in Alexander started before he took a snap for them, with defensive coordinator Rob Aurich saying he had the ability to be an All-Big Sky player early in his career back when the team signed him on Dec. 24.
That's why Aurich gets paid the big bucks.
Alexander is second on the team in tackles with 52, four for loss and has a forced fumble.
"He's a worker," Aurich said. "He and our other true freshman linebacker, Jaxton (Eck), have grinder attitudes, and that's what that linebacking corps is — a lot of blue-collar guys. Even though he's a highly praised recruit from Seattle, he's a blue-collar guy that way."
Alexander has produced at a high level despite being a true freshman and not starting right away. But it didn't take long for him to force the coaching staff's hand.
In Idaho's 33-6 win over Nevada on Sept. 9, Alexander saw just 10 snaps, but he finished with three tackles and a forced fumble.
"He does a great job of finishing plays, wrapping guys up and bringing them to the ground," Eck said. "I think he's had a lot of key one-on-one tackles that, if he missed, would've led to big plays."
After a breakout game against the Pack, he continued to contribute, coming off the bench until eventually making his first start in Idaho's 24-21 win over Montana State on Oct. 28.
He finished with four tackles against the Bobcats, and since then he's only improved with experience, registering a career-high 13 tackles in a 27-13 victory over Northern Colorado on Nov. 4.
"He's greatly improved his understanding of our defensive scheme," Aurich said. "I can put him in the game now and play him in multiple positions and feel comfortable that he's going to be able to handle it, whereas in his first couple of games with us, I really wanted to limit what he had to do to keep it simple for him. It wasn't a capability thing; it was strictly because he's just 18 years old."
Alexander's first start against the Bobcats held a bit of sentimental value as his brother, Lonyatta Alexander, transferred to Montana State in January.
Lonyatta, a sophomore receiver, didn't see any playing time this year, being a double transfer and thus not eligible this season. But the Alexander brothers being in the Big Sky together is special for Xe'ree, who grew up idolizing his older brother.
"It's really exciting," Xe'ree said. "I can't wait to play against him because I'm going to beat him up."
Alexander's connections in the Big Sky don't stop with his brother. His former defensive coordinator at Kennedy Catholic attended Sacramento State, and his former offensive coordinator, Sheldon Cross, is now calling plays at Cal Poly.
"It's really cool to have connections," Alexander said. "But my main focus right now is to win a national championship."
Pixley may be contacted at (208) 848-2290, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TreebTalks.