GREEN BAY – The adrenaline made Jaire Alexander feel invincible. Once emotion kicked in, the future Packers cornerback could do anything with a football in his hands.
Back then, the uniform design didn't matter. The patchy field with thorns and holes littered throughout the grass didn't bother Alexander, either. At least, until the excitement wore off and he'd itch his way all the way home after games.
He just wanted to play football. For himself. For his family. The Boys and Girls Club near his hometown of Charlotte gave Alexander that opportunity and he's never forgotten that fact.
"Growing up, I played at a Boys and Girls Club from my Pop Warner experience," said Alexander this week. "A lot of those kids are less fortunate than others and it goes unnoticed because I was one of those kids. I was one of those who was less fortunate, but not everybody knew that. No one knew that."
That's part of the reason, Alexander explains, the Boys and Girls Club holds such a special place in his heart. The two share a likeminded goal to promote opportunities to children through peace, love and positivity, a motto reflected on the side of his cleats for this Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Looking to give back as part of the NFL's annual "My Cause, My Cleats" initiative, Alexander hosted a yoga event this week for 20 children from two branches of the Green Bay chapter of the Boys and Girls Club, with ages ranging from seven to early teens.
Sitting in the middle of Ryanne Cunningham's Flow Yoga studio in De Pere, Alexander outlined the path that brought him to the game he loves during an informal Q&A.
Admittedly, Alexander isn't always comfortable with TV camera lights burning through his retinas, but the 21-year-old playmaker is completely in his element in front of a room of children who are tracking his every move.
Maybe it's because he was one of those youngsters not too long ago. Alexander still remembers attending a Steve Smith youth camp when he was 10. Confident since Day 1, he was fully convinced he could outrun Smith when the former Carolina Panthers receiver raced the kids at the end of the event. Spoiler alert – he didn't.
However, Alexander's jovial and laid-back nature allows him to connect easily with children on a deeper level, a trait that was clearly evident as he captivated the room on Tuesday night.
"Jaire was just a perfect individual to have there," said Cunningham, who has owned and operated Flow Yoga for the past six years. "Packers players are role models to these children and I feel like, especially knowing meditation and yoga, how important it is to children and young athletes, having Jaire as their role model is a huge benefit knowing they can also be successful in anything they want to do in their life."
Packers CB Jaire Alexander spent time at Flow Yoga in De Pere, helping lead an event for kids from the local Boys & Girls Club.
Paying it forward
The decision to do yoga was rooted in Alexander's desire to do something out of the norm from traditional interactions between athletes and kids. Instead of playing basketball or going to a movie, Alexander wanted to expand minds.
Yoga, an activity Alexander had a little experience in, seemed like the perfect fit.
Cunningham, who works with veteran defensive back Tramon Williams and several other players currently on the Packers' roster, brought the kids through the poses, while Alexander worked his way from one mat to another.
He offered encouragement to each child until finally coming across a boy wearing Alexander's No. 23. Despite seeing his jersey scattered across Lambeau Field in recent months, Alexander still gets emotional when he sees someone wearing his jersey.
As a kid, he owned one Michael Vick Falcons jersey, a fitting present for a seventh birthday. Alexander treasured it and still pinches himself at the realization there are now kids doing the exact same thing with his jersey.
Alexander thanked the child before moving on to speak to the next kid, trading several high-fives along the way.
"To go out and spend that money on a jersey of mine, I feel like I owe you," Alexander said. "I feel like I owe you a hello, a picture or something because $100 is not easy for everybody to come by. I'm just really appreciative of the fact people are taking notice."
Alexander eventually made his way back to the front, where he went through a series of different yoga poses. As impressive as the rookie's flexibility was, Alexander commanded the respect of all the adults when he successfully helped Cunningham quiet the room for meditation, playfully warning the kids in a comedic tone that they'd owe him $5 if they spoke.
When one child called his bluff, Alexander instantly joked: "I'm gonna need that." The quip initially garnered a round of laughter and then a wave of unexpected silence.
It's not uncommon for the Boys and Girls Club to receive offers to travel for a sponsored event, but rarely does the benefactor come along for the ride. It wasn't just Alexander's presence that made the event special, though. It's how engaged he was with the kids, asking each for his or her name at the start of very conversation.
"Jaire answered the questions from the kids so meaningfully," said Stephanie Nespoli, the director for communication and development for the Boys and Girls Club of Green Bay. "I thought he really shared things about himself to them that helps them relate to him more.
"It helps them realize that they're not much different from him and maybe if they keep working hard, they can reach success like he did. I think that was really meaningful to them."
That energy radiated throughout the room and the children's excitement to meet a Packers player could be seen when hands shot up to ask Alexander questions after meditation. While things started on a lighter note – the first two questions were whether Alexander was married or had a girlfriend – they dove into deeper topics like why he chose to play football.
Alexander's answer is two-fold. Picking up the sport when he was seven, Alexander just wanted to get out of the house, but once he became good at it, the game served as motivation as a means to a better life for both Alexander and his family.
"Once you are able to hone in on one thing and you perfect it, it comes second nature. That's what football is for me," Alexander said. "Just being able to get out of my situation. That was a motivational factor in why I did everything I do. I ended up falling in love with the game now. That's why I'm here."
Life has changed a lot for Alexander since getting drafted 18th overall earlier this year, but his 14-year journey with football has taught him there's more to life than fame and fortune.
It's now Alexander's mission to open doors for the next generation the same way the people of Charlotte did for him. While he participated in youth football camps and hospital cancer visits throughout his days at the University of Louisville, Alexander wants to use his current platform to support programs that supported him with events like the one Tuesday night.
After wrapping up the Q&A, Alexander took multiple photos with every kid and signed everything in sight – arms, shirts and even a pair of glasses – before sending the group on its way.
"I would love to see more of that more often because the sparkle in these children's eyes, I was in awe," Cunningham said. "The second they walked in and saw Jaire, they just had the biggest smiles on their faces. I think it means more to these children than any of us, as adults, are aware of. It was really humbling to see."
There are still a lot of chapters left to be written in Alexander's story, but he's off to a promising start. Now playing on some of the finest playing surfaces in the country, the 5-foot-10, 196-pound cornerback has recorded 48 tackles with nine passes defensed and an interception in his first nine games with the Packers.
Last week against Minnesota, Alexander was matched up against Pro Bowl receiver Adam Thielen. Still feisty as ever, Alexander continues to play the game with a will-not-be-denied attitude that was forged back home in Charlotte.
"The fact he got to do football for the first time through Boys and Girls Club and see where he is now, that's exactly what we're all about," Nespoli said. "We've had many alumni come back and say, 'Yeah, I came to the Boys and Girls Club, and now I'm a local business owner.'
"We have former Boys and Girls Club members on our board that are donating back because they know this is where it all began. I think that's really special. I think it speaks to the environment a boys and girls club provides as well as the staff that are there."
Alexander said he hopes to host more events in the near future, and like several of his Packers teammates, he'll be auctioning off his cleats after Sunday's game to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club.
"You gotta love kids," Alexander said. "They're full of energy, full of life. They're our future. They're our generation. You want to change the world, it starts with them. They're just living life. That's how I live. I just love that stuff."