Florida International U

He’s always been a quarterback, but this FIU player knew it was time to change positions

FIU Panthers quarterback Maurice Alexander (3) looks to pass in the second quarter during the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida on Thursday, December 21, 2017
FIU Panthers quarterback Maurice Alexander (3) looks to pass in the second quarter during the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida on Thursday, December 21, 2017 adiaz@miamiherald.com

Dreams die hard, and, when reality hits, it can crush a person.

But if you are a champion such as 21-year-old Maurice Alexander, you stand tall. You don’t crumble. You don’t collapse, mentally or physically. Instead, you re-create yourself and march forward with steely-eyed determination.

Alexander had played quarterback since he was 4 years old — that’s 81 percent of his life — but he gave up the position this spring knowing his chances of becoming FIU’s starter had greatly diminished.

Despite winning two state titles as Booker T. Washington’s starting quarterback — leading the Tornadoes to a 15-0 season as a senior in 2014 — the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Alexander was never going to be the prototype at the position.

“It’s not really about size,” Alexander said, still fighting the good fight in his mind. “But to get to the pros, I knew that playing wide receiver would be more realistic.”

Alex McGough, FIU’s record-setting, 6-3, 220-pound starting quarterback the past four years, graduated following the 2017 season and was drafted in the seventh round by the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks this past April.

FIU coach Butch Davis opened the quarterback position this spring, and 6-3, 225-pound Christian Alexander — no relation to Maurice — emerged as the front-runner.

In addition, FIU signed graduate transfer James Morgan, a 6-4, 215-pounder who had been a starter at Bowling Green.

Given all of that, Maurice Alexander made a mature decision after spring practices concluded, knocking on Davis’ door.

“He beat me to the punch,” said Davis, who had in mind asking Alexander to switch positions. “He said, ‘Coach, I love the team, and I want to help us win. I want to move to wide receiver.’

“He knew there was separation between him and Christian. And he knew James was coming in over the summer.

“I’m anxious to see what Maurice can do at wide receiver. I think his role will expand dramatically.”

Alexander has stepped into a crowded receiver room. Thomas Owens, who caught 59 passes for 887 yards and six touchdowns last year — all team highs — graduated, and FIU doesn’t return a single receiver who gained more than 315 yards in 2017.

Sophomore Bryce Singleton, who started four games late last season after Owens got injured, enters fall atop the depth chart along with Florida Gators transfer C.J. Worton and ex-Columbus High star Austin Maloney.

Giving chase are Shemar Thornton, Tony Gaiter and Darrius Scott. In addition, at least two freshmen — Jordan Underwood of Orlando and Marquel Dillard (Stranahan) — have made an impression so far in camp.

And then there’s Alexander, who is a fourth-year junior but brand new to the receiver position … and not lacking for confidence.

“I’m a veteran,” Alexander said when asked if he felt like a rookie receiver. “I know every position on this offense.”

That’s true, of course. His quarterback knowledge is the edge he feels he has at receiver.

But it’s more than just that. Alexander also spent the summer getting ready for his new position. He got stronger in the weight room, doing exercises such as bench presses that he wasn’t allowed to do during his incarnation as a QB.

He also convinced the FIU equipment managers to let him have access to the Jugs throwing machines anytime he wanted.

“Every night,” Alexander said, “I would grab a teammate and catch at least 200 balls.”

Alexander also talked a lot this spring and summer with former BTW and Gators star Antonio Callaway, his best friend who is now an NFL rookie, sitting atop the Cleveland Browns depth chart at wide receiver, opposite ex-Dolphin Jarvis Landry.

“I always felt I had the best hands at Booker T.,” said Alexander, showing once again his unrelenting confidence. “But Antonio has given me a lot of tips. We talk just about every day.”

Alexander also learned a lot from FIU receivers coach Aubrey Hill, who had 86 catches and 18 touchdowns while playing the position for the Gators in the early 1990s.

Hill, who also has extensive experience coaching receivers at the University of Miami, Florida, Pitt and Marshall, among other stops, has been impressed with Alexander.

“It’s only his fourth day of fall camp,” Hill said on Monday, “but you are starting to see some things that, wow, it seems like he has been here for his second or third year.

“We’re really excited. He’s all about the team. When you have a selfless teammate like him, it helps the whole program.”

Hill added that Alexander is “one of the best-conditioned guys” on the team.

“He’s a true leader,” Hill said, “and now you talk about his speed, his hands, his ability to make plays. He can stretch the field and play special teams. “Now it’s just a matter of getting enough reps at receiver, doing everything he needs in terms of leverage and technique, getting (defenders’) hands off him. Those are the skills he needs to develop.”