The ant and the cold mountain: Humility helps Jaire Alexander keep stardom in perspective

Success hasn’t changed mindset of the Packers’ All-Pro cornerback

CB Jaire Alexander

GREEN BAY – He's a Pro Bowler, an All-Pro, and has a 95 rating in the latest edition of "Madden." At barely 24 years old, Jaire Alexander appears to be atop the football world.

If only he knew it.

While heaps of praise were thrown Alexander's way this offseason, none of it reached the ears of the Packers' shutdown cornerback. He simply won't allow it.

Because underneath the No. 23 jersey on Alexander's chest remains the same kid from Charlotte who once flew under almost every scouting and college radar in high school. And he's processing superstardom the same way he handled the silence.

"I'm just thankful that everyone else gets a chance to see what I always thought I was, you know?" said Alexander, pausing for a moment. "I'm thankful that, 'SportsCenter,' or my teammates, or fans … I love the love. Because that's something that was rarely received to me.

"I think it's cool, but at the same time, it's also humbling, because I know where I came from, so it always pushes me. So, I'm sure I probably watch the least amount of TV out of everybody in this room. And for good reason. Because I'm one. If that makes sense. I'm the ant climbing up the cold mountain."

Alexander was lights out last season, leading the Packers in passes defensed for the third straight year and pitching shutouts against some of the game's top receivers over his 17 starts (including playoffs).

According to Pro Football Reference, opposing quarterbacks completed just 41-of-80 passes for 375 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (67.4 passer rating) against Alexander in 2020. That's just 25 yards per regular-season game played.

His best performance may have been his last, picking off future Hall of Famer Tom Brady twice in the fourth quarter of January's NFC Championship Game. As disappointing as the result was, Alexander called it an "eye-opening" game in his young career.

The best could still be yet to come for the 5-foot-10, 192-pound cornerback under new defensive coordinator Joe Barry, whose high-energy approach has appealed to Alexander.

"We all feed off that," Alexander said. "Somedays, when we don't have any energy, Joe Barry will hype us up and he'll give us the energy. The other day, in the defensive meeting room, he showed us an example of him tackling the air and he hit the ground and tackled the air. It was amazing to see. He got right back up. His glasses were still on the shirt. It was cool, man."

Asked if he's spoken with Barry on whether he'll move around more this season, Alexander said one of the first things he did was find his coordinator and tell him he's up for anything this season. Even if it means rushing down near the line of scrimmage with All-Pro linebacker Za'Darius Smith.

From a leadership standpoint, Alexander has enjoyed working with rookie first-round pick Eric Stokes and the rest of the young secondary. While Alexander has set a high bar for his peers, he reminds the young cornerbacks on the roster to not be afraid to make mistakes in camp and try new things.

To third-year starting safety Darnell Savage, what separates Alexander is how he attacks every aspect of his craft and doesn't rest on his laurels.

"You've got some guys that are naturally born to just cover and they're just good at it, no matter what. He's one of those guys," Savage said. "He's just got a gift. I think the one thing I was really more so proud of him, he really took pride in playing off coverage. Because everybody knows he can press. He can be as sticky as he wants to be, but the fact that he can press and play off is pretty game-breaking."

A strong proponent of yoga and meditation, Alexander takes a modest approach to the increasing notoriety. He'd rather clear his mind with his own thoughts than fill it with external hype.

Standing at the podium Friday, Alexander raised his hands to illustrate how noise tends to climb in lockstep with a player's improving performance. That's all well and good, but Alexander doesn't base his success on that.

Because deep down, regardless of how many bouquets are being thrown at his cleats, Alexander feels he is the best…and that internal confidence is all he needs for the ant to continue climbing this cold mountain.

"I've felt like the confidence was always there, but once I got those accolades – All Pro, Pro Bowl – it made me feel like OK, I'm not the one being overlooked," Alexander said.

"I am the one. And it just, it made me realize, like, watching all the greats at corner, I could be one of the greats. I am the greatest. So, it's just a form of affirmation that I say to myself that I believe in."

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