It’s hard to recognize Eric Alexander. Gone are his trademark dreadlocks. Gone, as well, are the furrowed eyebrows of people trying to remember how they recognize him.
As a former professional athlete, and a relatively young one at 31, Alexander is still trying to find his way in the world. But unlike any normal 31-year-old, he already is attempting to cross items off his bucket list.
The not-so-long-ago Patriots linebacker and special teams fixture will run Monday’s 117th Boston Marathon as part of the Patriots Charitable Foundation, using his name to help raise money for the Myra Kraft Community MVP awards.
“I’ve always been interested in endurance sports like a marathon and Ironman [triathlon],” Alexander said. “Running a marathon is just one thing I can check off my list.”
With less than a week to go, Alexander, like much of the Boston field of both competitive and charity runners, is winding down his training. He joins a team of runners with the Patriots Charitable Foundation that has raised $220,000. Alexander himself has raised nearly $6,000 ($5,919.50).
Training for a marathon is obviously new to Alexander.
“It’s a lot different,” he said. “You’re running so many miles a week. Football is a more explosive sport. You run for a short distance and you rest.
“With distance running, you run for hours and there’s really no rest in between. Sooner or later it becomes more mental than physical. Like, can you keep your legs moving?”
But there are attributes from his NFL days that have helped during practice runs. He can be excitable and encouraging, according to his charity teammates.
“He’s very disciplined,” said Suzanne Hurley, who is the charity’s liaison with the Boston Athletic Association. “He’s always preparing, very committed. Sort of the Patriots way.
“He really has his head in the game, willing to learn and very receptive. A total team player. Just an all-around player.
“I think people definitely look up to him. I think people admire his great attitude and preparation. I know that he’s made a lot of friends. It’s being part of a team, but running can be very individual. But collectively, with all my groups, it can be a very fun [experience].”
Two years into retirement, Alexander still follows the Patriots.
“Of course, Tom Brady is the piece that holds everything together,” he said. “I think every year they are gaining more and more experience on defense, which will help them in these next couple of years. They have a few key veterans on defense like Vince Wilfork, like Rob Ninkovich, that can help them in the future, I think.”
He was one of many observers confused about Wes Welker’s departure.
“Probably, just like a lot of Bostonians, that move kind of left me scratching my head,” he said. “But knowing Bill [Belichick] and the staff, I’m sure it was for good reason. Like a lot of people, I probably would have liked to see Wes stay. But it’s football, and changes occur all the time.”
Alexander should know. He was cut and re-signed by the Patriots four times in six years with the team (2004-09). In 2010, he moved on to play for the Jacksonville Jaguars before being released again. He joined up with the Cleveland Browns later that season, but was unable to stick anywhere afterward.
Alexander went back to school and got his degree in interdisciplinary studies and now teaches at a Newton elementary school. He’s also a managing partner at a sports bar in Boston.
“Life has been OK,” he said. “Still trying to figure out exactly what will be my life after football. I’ve done several different jobs and just trying to figure some things out. So I’m just trying to find my niche in the world right now.”
Alexander started his training in December, deciding almost on a whim that he would take on Boston’s treacherous 26.2 miles. He was already keeping himself in shape, doing “cross-fit” workouts to remain near his playing weight of 235 pounds (he’s currently 230). But the Boston Marathon has also allowed him to feed his interest in giving back to the community.
“When I was a Patriot, I used to, every Tuesday on our days off, I loved going into the community and volunteering and spending my time with different things that the Patriots organization had going on,” he said. “Now being a Patriots alumni, this just helps me further Myra Kraft’s cause of celebrating volunteerism.
“Yes, I’m helping others. But doing all this charity work and working with kids, it also helps me feel good about myself, to help others. I grew up in Texas, so I guess my parents did instill some of that in me.”
There are no specific time goals for the race, other than to finish. Alexander will sport the Patriots Charitable Foundation marathon uniform. On the back, his name will be etched in bright white print, making it easier for people to recognize him.
To donate to the Patriots Charitable Foundation, visit its page on FirstGiving.com.Zuri Berry can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter @zuriberry.