Former LSU running back Charles Alexander will enter the College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday night the same way he earned his way there: surrounded by his blockers.
When he is formally enshrined in a ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, he’ll share the experience with the guys who paved the way for him to run for more than 4,000 yards, a total that still leaves him third on the school’s all-time rushing list, from 1975-78.
“I always tell people,” Alexander said, “I didn’t get to the College Football Hall of Fame alone. I had a lot of help. I wouldn’t have gotten there without those guys.”
The helpers who joined him in New York are his starting line — tackles Chris Rich and Ralph Dugas, guards Craig Duhe and William Johnson, and center Jay Whitley — fullback Kelly Simmons, and two other linemen — Rocky Guillot and Ralph McIngvale — as well as safety Rusty Brown, a former teammate against whom Alexander ran track in high school in Texas.
Rich cited a game against Oregon in 1977 in which Alexander rushed for a then-school-record 237 yards as an example of how the closeness between him and his blockers was formed.
“Charlie was a great running back,” Rich said, “and as humble as he was with the accolades he received and how he treated us created a great bond. Any time anybody back in the day talked to Charlie about a great game he had, he’d say, ‘It’s nothing about me. It’s about my teammates and my offensive line.’ He demonstrated that at every turn.”
Alexander is humble by nature, but his college debut enhanced that trait as he finished with minus-8 yards rushing in a game at Nebraska.
“What stands out the most is nothing ever came easy for me,” Alexander said. “I had to work hard for everything I got. This wasn’t something I knew was going to happen. It was a long, tough road.”
Alexander said head coach Charles McClendon and running backs coach Jerry Stovall encouraged him.
“Coach Mac always told me to hang in there, that things would get better,” Alexander said. “Coach Stovall, who recruited me, never gave up on me. He always pushed me and told me to keep fighting, and that’s what I did.”
Alexander said he started to believe he would have a successful career after having a two-touchdown game against Tulane in the Superdome in the final game of his freshman season.
“That game gave me a little confidence,” Alexander said. “It made me feel like I might make it in college.”
Rich sounded less doubtful of Alexander’s potential.
“He had natural God-given ability as an athlete,” Rich said. “He ran for the pro scouts the spring of his senior year. He weighed 230 pounds and ran 4.37 40 (yard dash). He was just gifted. He had great vision. Early on he was one of those big backs with speed that you see all over the place nowadays. Whenever he needed to turn it up a notch, he always seemed able to do it.”
Rich said he remembered the team watching film of an Alexander run one day and fellow running back Terry Robiskie, whom Alexander succeeded as the Tigers’ featured back, nicknaming Alexander “Sweet.”
“He cut back across the field and scored on a play that should have gained a couple of yards,” Rich recalled. “Terry Robiskie just said, ‘This guy runs sweet.’ And it stuck.”
Alexander learned in May that he had been selected for induction. He was aware that he was finalist, but was “caught off guard” by how he was notified at his home in Missouri City, Texas.
“I got a box in the mail from the hall of fame,” Alexander recalled. “It had a football in it with my name on it and Louisiana State University, saying I was a member of the 2012 class. I got really, really excited.”
Alexander was supposed to keep the news to himself for six days until an official announcement was made, but “that was a tough thing to do,” he said.
He couldn’t resist telling his two daughters, Nicole Merenivitch and Nakesha Alexander, both of whom will also attend the induction.
Alexander also made a priority of telling Stovall, who was inducted into the hall two years ago for his playing career as a Tiger.
“I always hoped this would happen while I was still able to move around pretty good,” Alexander said with a laugh. “I’m 55 now, and who knows what it’ll be like 10 or 15 years from now.”
Alexander also notified his blockers — “the root hogs” — as soon as he could.
“I sent them all an email,” Alexander said. “I told them, ‘Guys, we made it.’ ”
Alexander is one of 11 inductees who will be honored during the 55th annual National Football Foundation Annual Awards Dinner.
The class also includes three coaches: Phillip Fulmer (Tennessee), Jimmy Johnson (Oklahoma State, Miami) and R.C. Slocum (Texas A&M). Johnson will speak on behalf of the class.