In our tenth installment of flashback features, Touchdown Alabama Magazine reflects on one of the golden ages in Alabama football, the mid-late 1990s. Kentucky is widely known for basketball and horses, but in 1995, the bluegrass state allowed one of its own to escape.
A native of Florence, Ky., Shaun Alexander was a rare talent. He excelled in football, basketball and baseball at Boone County High School. Alexander became the team’s second-string running back as a sophomore in 1992, but college scouts drooled at his production as a senior in 1994.
He totaled 3,166 rushing yards with 54 touchdowns (state record) as Boone County’s featured back. Alexander was named Kentucky’s “Mr. Football,” and was selected as an All-American by Parade and USA Today. His jersey number (No. 37) was retired before graduation, and Alexander accounted for 6,657 rushing yards with 110 touchdowns for his career.
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Alexander arrived in Tuscaloosa in 1995, and redshirted his freshman season under head coach Gene Stallings. He was a huge contributor offensively as a redshirt freshman in 1996, totaling 589 rushing yards with six touchdowns. Alabama’s meeting with LSU was the matchup that launched Alexander into the national spotlight. He chimed in with 291 yards (school record) and four rushing touchdowns. The Crimson Tide would shutout the Tigers 26-0.
Alabama ended the 1996 regular season at 9-2, but a 45-30 loss against No.4-ranked Florida in the Southeastern Conference title game would leave a bad taste in its mouth. The team defeated No.15-ranked Michigan in the 1997 Outback Bowl 17-14, ending its season at 10-3.
1997 was a difficult year for Alexander and the Crimson Tide. Mike DuBose replaced Stallings at head coach, and Alabama limped to a 4-7 season. Alexander managed to put in 415 yards rushing and three touchdowns, despite a lackluster sophomore season.
With a year under his belt, coach DuBose was ready to make huge strides with Alabama in 1998. Alexander was the team’s featured back and he put on a show in his junior season.
He tallied 1,178 yards with 18 touchdowns from scrimmage (14 rushing, four receiving). The Crimson Tide notched a 7-5 record, and Alexander earned All-Southeast Conference honors.
Alexander’s versatility as a play maker came full circle in 1999. As a senior, he collected 1,383 rushing yards with 23 total touchdowns (19 rushing, four receiving) on 4.6 yards per carry.
A sprained ankle against Tennessee negated his chances of winning a Heisman Trophy, but Alexander’s performances against Auburn and Florida were second to none.
He recorded 106 rushing yards, 94 receiving yards and four touchdowns in Alabama’s 40-39 overtime victory over No.3-ranked Florida early in the season. Alexander had 199 total yards and three touchdowns in Alabama’s 28-17 comeback victory over Auburn. He was beaten by Florida as a freshman in an SEC title game, however, Alexander avenged himself as a senior.
Alabama pounded Florida in the trenches, and rushed for 300 yards in the 1999 SEC Championship Game. Alexander had 97 yards with a touchdown on 30 carries. The Crimson Tide defeated the Gators 34-7, securing its first conference title since the 1992 season.
Alabama would lose to Michigan 35-34 in the 2000 Orange Bowl, but Alexander guided the team to national recognition under DuBose. He finished the 1999 season, leading the SEC in rushing yards (1,383), yards from scrimmage (1,706), rushing touchdowns (19) and touchdowns from scrimmage with 23.
Alexander was recognized the SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 1999.
He finished seventh in the Heisman voting (1999), and left holding 15 school records, including 3,565 rushing yards. Alexander scored 41 career rushing touchdowns on 4.9 yards per carry.
The Seattle Seahawks selected Alexander in the first round (19th pick) of the 2000 NFL Draft.
He spent eight seasons (2000-07) in Washington, and totaled 9,453 career rushing yards with 100 touchdowns. 2005 was a ground-breaking year for Alexander in the National Football League. He became the league’s top rusher with 1,880 yards and 27 touchdowns.
The mark earned Alexander numerous accolades, including a Pro Bowl selection, first-team All-Pro selection, NFC’s Offensive Player of the Year, AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year, the NFL’s most valuable player award and NFL Alumni Rushing Back of the Year Award in 2005.
Alexander and the Seattle Seahawks finished the 2005 season at 13-3, capturing a playoff berth. It won an NFC Conference title, and made it to Super Bowl 40 to face the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Seattle would lose the game 21-10, but it proved it could reach the big stage behind Matt Hasslebeck and Shaun Alexander. In 2007, Electronic Arts honored Alexander by selecting him for the cover of Madden 2007, a football video game used for all consoles. He is the first and only former Alabama player to appear on a Madden cover. Alexander is a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, and the Seattle Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team.
Alexander is remembered for being a dominant player at Alabama. He came during a time, in which the team and its fan base needed a player that could change the dynamics of a game. Alexander was the first Kentucky native to come to Alabama, and he’s given his blessing to a young buck, five-star freshman running back Damien Harris. Harris, a native of Berea, Ky., logged 6,717 rushing yards with 111 touchdowns in his career Madison Southern High School.
Stephen M. Smith is a staff writer and columnist for Touchdown Alabama, Pick Six Previews and SB Nation. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.