Before Lorenzo Alexander became one of the top high school football players in the country, he was spending time doing something far less glamorous -- volunteering at a convalescent home in Berkeley.
As Alexander prepares for his 10th season in the NFL, his philanthropic activities have only grown in stature and visibility. But the former Cal and current Arizona Cardinals football player has not forgotten about his Oakland roots.
Alexander's ACES Foundation -- the acronym stands for Accountability, Community, Education and Sports -- was founded in 2008 and is designed to impact youth both in the Oakland area and Washington D.C., the latter where he played for much of his NFL career.
On April 5, Alexander hosted a celebrity bowling fundraiser at Albany Bowl for the foundation, the mission statement for which is to "support youth through emphasizing self Accountability, taking pride in our Community, striving for Educational excellence while promoting a healthy mind and body through Sports." Its programs include tutoring, SAT preparation, helping youth make financial decisions and "real talk" workshops where professionals in fields such as medicine, law and finance provide youth with information.
"I grew up (in Oakland), born and raised. I felt the obligation to give back. My experiences with people helped me out ... and now that I have the opportunity to serve the community, I want to do the same thing," Alexander said.
Alexander, 30, remembers volunteering at the convalescent home when he was a student at St. Mary's High in Berkeley, where he became a Parade All-American by his senior season. But his foundation focuses on helping young people.
"I want to get to kids early in life, not when they are 14, 15, 16. Help them achieve their dreams, whatever they be -- going to college, playing in the NFL and NBA," Alexander said. "I want them to know they have a lot of options out there."
The 6-foot-1, 275-pound Alexander was one of the nation's top high school defensive line recruits as a senior at St. Mary's. Schools such as Miami, Oregon and Georgia Tech pursued Alexander, but he chose Cal partly because of its academics and its proximity to home.
Alexander also played varsity basketball for three years and was a pivotal member of St. Mary's Division IV state championship team in 2001.
"He was the best (player) I ever had, and I had some outstanding kids," said Dan Shaughnessy, Alexander's high school football coach, who has 54 years of experience as either a head or assistant coach. "You heard college coaches say he is going to be playing on Sundays. They saw that attribute early."
After four years as a starter at Cal, where he earned his bachelor's degree in legal studies, Alexander began a somewhat unconventional NFL career.
Alexander was on the practice squad with three teams, including Washington's, before he made Washington's roster in 2007. From that point, he has played a variety of positions on both offense and defense, as well as special teams. And he has thrived.
"A lot of it had to do with being on practice squads. You have to do different looks," said Alexander about how he ended up playing a variety of positions. "I don't think I'm the only guy that's like me in the NFL, but I'm one of a few guys that were asked to do what I was asked to do."
Alexander also lost weight, dropping 80 pounds over time after he weighed 315 pounds during his second year in the NFL.
"I stopped drinking and changed my diet up quite a bit. It happened over a six-year period. It wasn't one postseason," Alexander said. "I had to lose weight to show that I could play a new position. I had motivation behind it. It was part of my job. I got a nutritionist, moved away from the bread, started cycling, doing some cross training, MMA fighting."
After a season-ending foot injury last September, Alexander is looking at another position change for the Cardinals this upcoming season, from outside to inside linebacker.
"I'm feeling great," said Alexander about the injury. "I've made a lot of progress. In the next couple of months, I should be back to 100 percent."
Alexander was selected to the 2013 Pro Bowl as a special teams player. But his community work was also noticed when he was Washington's nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award after the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
"The things he is doing now are the things I would have liked him to do. When his nonprofit started, it was a big deal for me because it was about helping his community out," said Steve Moore, Alexander's uncle who was a father figure to him during his youth.
"At the end of the day, I really enjoy helping people," Alexander said. "It's something I really want to do as my life's work."