Fresh off a transfer back to the Kanawha Valley from Georgia last summer, R.T. Alexander had to hit the ground running in his first season at George Washington.
Well, that’s really a misnomer. Alexander actually had to hit the ground passing with the Patriots in 2019. Since GW had problems much of the season moving the ball on the ground, the offense leaned on Alexander, its durable quarterback, for the bulk of its yards and points.
Alexander proved he was up to the task, leading the rebuilding Patriots to an 8-4 season and a Class AAA quarterfinal spot, even after they started the season 0-2. He threw for 2,428 yards and 30 touchdowns against a rugged schedule that included 10 playoff teams out of 12 games. He was selected to the All-State second team.
Now a senior and finally returning to the same program for a second straight year, Alexander is again expected to guide GW to some offensive fireworks this fall.
“He’ll be counted on,’’ said GW coach Steve Edwards Jr. during one of the team’s recent conditioning sessions. “He’s the trigger-puller. He’s the leader.’’
Alexander made a splashy prep debut as a freshman at St. Albans in 2017, passing for 1,998 yards and 12 TDs, earning the Gazette-Mail Freshman of the Year award. The son of Robert Alexander, the two-time Kennedy Award-winning running back at South Charleston and a former WVU and NFL player, R.T. Alexander moved with his family to Georgia two years ago, but suffered a knee injury and hardly played at Lowndes High School in Valdosta.
Then came another move back to Kanawha County, but this time R.T. Alexander enrolled at GW, where he was reunited with quarterback guru Scott Tinsley, an assistant coach with the Patriots who was Alexander’s head coach at St. Albans in 2017.
Results might have been slow in coming last season, but GW was on a tear at season’s end, winning eight times in a nine-game stretch, with the lone loss coming at Class AAA power Spring Valley. And the Patriots, who were 7-0 at home, more often than not did it with a one-dimensional attack, as the passing game provided 30 of the team’s 37 offensive touchdowns. GW managed just 2.9 yards per carry for the season and 72.9 yards per game rushing, and that’s even with much better numbers over the final three games.
“I think [the running game] will be better,’’ Edwards said, “because we’re better up front with more experience. We were really young there last year, and the year before we weren’t very big. Now we’re probably as big as we’ve ever been, and I think that’s going to help.
“We lost of a lot of good ones up front, but we’ve got three, four back who played and got good experience. Hopefully, they’ve matured like I think they have, because they’ve gotten bigger and stronger.’’
The lack of a dependable ground game provided perhaps one unexpected bonus: It forced Alexander into a leadership role that he wholly embraced.
When the season ended, Alexander wound up as GW’s leading rusher, albeit with modest totals of 292 yards and one TD. However, in late-season victories against Capital and Huntington, he ran a total of 27 times for 126 yards and one score.
Alexander proved he was more than a one-trick pony, able to move the chains with his legs as well as his strong right arm. He even noticed the change himself.
“That’s true,’’ he said. “The players really encouraged me to take over, and so did the coaches. So I just took the role and I ran with it.’’
Edwards said the coaching staff didn’t really notice all of Alexander’s contributions, such as keeping plays alive with his escapability, or powering ahead on third-and-1 or fourth-and-1, until they saw the game videos.
“There’s no doubt he has those qualities,’’ Edwards said, “and he has that ability to be a leader. He has the ability to take a game over, and he doesn’t mind doing it.
“And he does it in such a quiet manner that you don’t realize until after the game, and you see what the scoreboard says and what the stats say and what he’s been able to do. Sometimes, it’s not until we watch the film and we say, ‘Wow, he had a better game than we thought he did.’ ’’
For his part, Alexander notices a few nuances of the game he needs to improve upon, including fewer interceptions than the 12 he threw last season.
“The running game, especially,’’ Alexander said, “and noticing coverages a little bit better. Even if someone’s calling for it wide open, if [a defender’s] there, I need to be able to see it and find someone else without ruining the play or turning the ball over.’’
One of Alexander’s biggest obstacles will be adjusting to a practically new set of receivers. GW lost the likes of seniors Alex Mazelon, Brayden McCallister, Luke Grimm and Isaac Isabell, who combined for 86 percent of the team’s receptions and 90 percent of the receiving yards from last season, not to mention 27 of Alexander’s 30 TD tosses.
“He lost a good supporting cast,’’ Edwards said. “Those guys came from nowhere and did a nice job. But I think [Alexander’s] used to that, because he didn’t know those guys before he got here, and it took us some time last year to get moving, to get together on that.
“But I think this time, what we’re doing right now [with conditioning] is really helping a lot of those new faces we’ve got. We do have some guys back who are going to have to wear different hats but ... I’m pleased with what we’ve got coming back and with what I see, and I’m pleased with [Alexander’s] progress and with his leadership. It’s going to be interesting.’’
Alexander noted that a few skill-position players return — running backs D’Anthony Wright and Hasten Pinkerton and receiver Brody Thompson — and they’re joined by athletic junior Taran Fitzpatrick, a GW basketball player out for football for the first time.
“We’ve got a few people coming back,’’ Alexander said, “and they’re just showing the younger guys what to do. We’ve got some younger players who can play, too, so they’ll get in the rotation.’’