The progeny of arguably the greatest player in Chiefs history relished a weekend tryout with his hometown team.
Akron running back Donnell Alexander, whose father is the late Derrick Thomas, was among four tailbacks who participated in the Chiefs’ three-day rookie minicamp, which wrapped up Monday at the Arrowhead Stadium practice facility.
“It’s a surreal experience,” said Alexander, a 2011 Blue Springs South graduate. “No matter what, I think I would have come here regardless and at least tried out, because this is where I would love to be — a Chief.”
Alexander only has faint memories of dad’s career, which was cut short when Thomas died Feb. 8, 2000, due to complications from injuries sustained in a car crash two weeks earlier.
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“Most of my memories come from film,” Alexander said.
Still, he understands the lasting impact left by Thomas — whose number was retired by the Chiefs in 2009, the same year he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“When I was in Colorado, I did a camp and I had a lot of people come up and speak to me,” said Alexander, who played two seasons at Colorado State before transferring to the Zips. “The way they said that they idolized my father, that was amazing, because they don’t really know who he is. For them to just be a diehard fan like that showed me a lot.”
How does Alexander think he’d have fared against Thomas, who racked up 126 1/2 sacks in an 11-year career, if called to block him in blitz pickup?
“I would try,” Alexander said with a defiant smile. “Whoever lines up, I’m going to try to block him. He definitely was a different breed, but I would have tried my hardest.”
That mirrored Alexander’s main goal for the minicamp.
“My father playing here, that’s very important,” he said. “I definitely have to come out here and work hard, try to display some talent and show them that I can help contribute. … One thing that you can’t coach is effort, so you give your full effort on it and I feel like I did that on every play.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid took note of Alexander’s presence along with his performance.
Alexander spent much of Monday’s practice taking first-team reps, but it was something else that really caught Reid’s eye.
“I thought he did a real nice job,” Reid said. “He’s actually got a tattoo on the back of his neck that’s pretty neat with an arrowhead and the whole deal. How many guys have an arrowhead tattoo at all? But he’s got that, and I know he’s proud of his dad.”
Just in case suiting up for his dad’s team and taking the same field he once stalked wasn’t enough, Alexander had another breathtaking surprise awaiting him at his locker when he was assigned No. 31 — popularized by his childhood running-back idol, Priest Holmes.
“When I saw it, I was happy,” Alexander said. “I was telling everybody, ‘Man, I got Priest Holmes’ number.’ I was very fortunate to get this number. I appreciated it.”
Alexander also wasn’t sure he — or anyone — was worthy of it.
“Even wearing his number, to me, is a humbling experience, because I didn’t think anybody should be able to wear it,” Alexander said. “Being able to put it on, I was glad I was able to do it. … He’s one of my favorite running backs ever. I watched him all the time, loved watching him play football.”
Alexander was one of four undrafted rookies from metropolitan Kansas City invited to try out along with Raytown South graduate Marquise Cushon, a wide receiver from Pittsburg State; Louisburg graduate Garrett Griffin, a tight end from Air Force; and Eudora graduate Boomer Mays, a long snapper from Northern Illinois.
“This is our stomping ground,” said Alexander, who also played at Grandview and Olathe East in high school. “We’re from here, so I think it would mean a lot more to play here. Playing in the NFL, period, is a privilege, but being here in Kansas City — I don’t think there’s anything better that.”