Earl Alexander thought he was going to score.
Airborne, he stretched his right arm and tried to get the football over the goal line.
It was LSU. Alabama was unbeaten. And it was big.
As Alexander’s 6-foot-4, 212-pound frame came crashing to the Tiger Stadium turf, his right elbow hit first.
The ball popped out.
What was going to be the Phenix City native’s first Crimson Tide touchdown turned into a fumble that went out of bounds in the end zone.
But that was not the worst of it.
It destroyed his shoulder.
He tore the rotator cuff. He tore the labrum. And he pulled the biceps tendon away from the bone.
He tried to finish out the year but was not effective. After the season, famed surgeon Jim Andrews went in and repaired the damage.
“I tore the shoulder up and fumbled the ball,” Alexander said. “It doesn’t get any worse than that.”
Things were better Tuesday for the reserve wide receiver. He participated in media day as Alabama prepares to play Texas for the national championship Thursday in the Rose Bowl.
Alexander had a smile on his face.
And he’s enjoying California.
“The weather is great,” he said.
That is the understatement of the week. While folks back in Alabama suffer through bitter cold and prepare for snow, the highs reach the mid 70s here.
When Alexander left Central High in 2006, he was headed to stardom at Alabama. His senior season, he had 1,700 yards of total offense and scored 17 touchdowns.
But stardom has not come to him in Tuscaloosa. After red-shirting in 2006, he has played 38 games. He has 16 catches and no touchdowns.
The injuries have played a role.
Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy came to Alabama at the same time as Alexander.
“A lot of the things he does go unnoticed,” McElroy said. “The tough thing for Earl has been staying healthy.”
After he came back from the shoulder injury, Alexander suffered a high ankle sprain.
If it is not one thing, it is another.
“That is one of the tough things when we talk about high-level athletes, trying to come back and make sure everything feels like it did before,” said Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain.
That has been tough for Alexander.
“I wouldn’t call it frustrating, but it has been kind of disappointing from an individual standpoint,” Alexander said. “I expect so much from myself.”
Don’t feel sorry for him.
“I don’t make excuses,” he said. “I am going to work hard to be the best I can be.”
That means playing his reserve role well.
He plays behind wide receivers Julio Jones, Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks. Alexander’s role is to be ready when needed.
“Earl is one play away from being the man,” McElroy said.
He also personifies this team, said Alabama wide receivers coach Curt Cignetti.
“That’s the key to this whole team,” Cignetti said. “Everybody has a role and has to excel in that role.”
Alexander has “done everything we have asked him to do,” Cignetti said.
“He understands the expectations at this level,” Cignetti said. “He has been battling back from ankle problems and leg issues. And he has moved around quite a bit, playing two or three different positions.”
And that role, which also includes playing on punt coverage teams, gives Alexander the chance to be part of something special.
“I have an opportunity to be on a team that brings a national championship back to Alabama,” he said. “That would be awesome.”
It already has been a successful year for Alexander, a junior. He graduated in December with a degree in financial planning. He is starting on his masters and will be back next year for his final season of eligibility.
He still is thinking about a shot in the NFL.
“The NFL likes speed,” he said.
Alexander runs a 4.45 40-yard dash.
“I feel like I am fast enough,” he said. “I am going to get a shot. From there, the sky is the limit.”
McElroy thinks Alexander will get that shot.
“He has the ideal size and speed for a split end on the college level and in the NFL,” the Alabama quarterback said.
If that doesn’t work, Alexander said, he might go into coaching.
But those are topics for another today.
Alexander will show up Thursday night in the Rose Bowl. He will play his role. And he will be ready if that role expands.
His position coach knows that.
“He’s one snap away from having to make the key play,” Cignetti said.
One snap. One play.
Maybe it will turn out better than that afternoon in Baton Rouge.