Tragedy tracks Ravens receiver Brother's death latest disaster for Alexander

August 08, 1996|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Derrick Alexander was happy to be back in his element, but an air of sadness hung over him.

Alexander, a third-year receiver, rejoined the Ravens at their Western Maryland College training camp site after yesterday's practice, ending an 11-day absence brought on by tragedy.

A week had passed since the death of his 33-year-old brother, Garrett, from lung failure. Four days had passed since Garrett's burial. And as teammates and coaches welcomed Alexander back with handshakes and hugs, he thought about the task at hand.

"I'm doing good, I guess," said Alexander, speaking softly with a faraway look in his eyes. "I have to fight through this. I'm trying to get it out of my mind. I've got a lot of catching up to do. I've got to do some extra studying."

"I feel for him," said Ravens receivers coach Mike Sheppard, who embraced Alexander in the team's dining hall. "I held back from calling him, because I didn't want it to seem like we were trying to get him back here, but we wanted to let him know he's wanted here. It's a sensitive area. What you really know is there are a lot more important things than football."

Training camp had been going well for Alexander. He came to camp in excellent shape, having dropped 15 pounds since the team's May minicamp. His pass routes were crisp, his hands sure. As one of the team's starting receivers on the depth chart, Alexander, 6 feet 2, 195 pounds, made several fine catches at a Memorial Stadium practice on July 27. Later that night, he got the call from his parents in Detroit.

Garrett, who had become ill suddenly a month before training camp but had rebounded, had taken a turn for the worse. Alexander was on a flight back home the next day.

The Alexander family soon was grieving with a terrible feeling of familiarity. In 1988, another of Derrick's brothers, Steven, was killed in an automobile accident.

"I wear No. 82, because that was his number when he played high school ball," Alexander said. "I still have one brother left, Kevin. He's 31."

Derrick is 24, the baby of the family.

After the Cleveland Browns made him a first-round draft pick out of Michigan in 1994, he made an instant splash in the NFL by leading the team with 48 catches for 828 yards, the best yardage total by a Browns rookie since Paul Warfield 30 years earlier.

But, about a month before the Browns' 1995 training camp, tragedy found Alexander again. While vacationing on a Michigan lake, a female companion of Alexander's was operating his power ski when it struck a man, Charles Carnill, 43, causing severe head injuries that sent him into a coma.

Alexander, who was on the back of the power ski, was sued for personal injury damages by the wife of the victim. Alexander is hoping the case, still in litigation, is settled this month.

That accident set the tone for his second season, which was a major disappointment. A leg injury, the arrival of Andre Rison and dropped passes eventually led to his demotion to backup. Alexander recorded only 15 receptions for 216 yards.

Now, another training camp has been cruelly interrupted.

"It's piling up on me right now," he said. "It seems like every time something good happens, something twice as bad happens. I've got to get some good things going on."

"He's a strong person. He'll be back on his feet," said teammate and fellow receiver Ray Ethridge. "He's a good friend. I'm glad to see him back."

Coach Ted Marchibroda said Alexander has not lost his starting spot on the depth chart, although he added Alexander probably would not play in the Ravens' second preseason game against the New York Giants on Saturday. Calvin Williams will start in his place.

"It felt good to get off the plane today, knowing I was back in Baltimore, where I'm supposed to be," Alexander said.

"It will feel good to put the uniform back on. I just hope I remember the plays. It feels like I'm a new guy around here, like I'm starting over."

Pub Date: 8/08/96

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