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Vince Alexander intercepted two passes in the first half of Penn's upset of Lehigh. The Quakers turned those picks into 10 points. [Michael Weissman/DP File Photo]

All four of Gerald Alexander's sons played soccer throughout their childhoods. Three of them went on to play at the collegiate level -- at Detroit, Richmond and Wake Forest.

Luckily for the Penn football team, one of them broke the mold.

Vince Alexander did, at the start of high school, what none of his three brothers dared. He ditched the soccer pitch and decided to pursue a career in the "other" football, replacing shinguards with shoulder pads and thigh-high shorts with shiny helmets.

It's probably fair to say that decision has paid off.

In his first full season as a starter, the Penn senior has emerged as one of the top defensive players in the Ivy League.

Alexander is tied with Princeton's Jay McCarein for the league lead in interceptions with four. The safety has turned those four picks into 102 yards and a touchdown return.

Alexander also leads the Quakers with 26 solo tackles and is tied for the team lead in sacks, with four.

He is, teammates and coaches say, the complete package.

"Vince is the man," says running back/defensive back Stephen Faulk, who has played alongside Alexander for the past four years. "What can you say? He's big, he's strong, he's fast. He runs his mouth, and he backs it up. You can't say enough good things about him."

What makes Alexander such a dominant presence in the defensive backfield is his versatility. Through high school, Alexander was an outside linebacker, but he switched to the safety position his freshman year at Penn.

"It really wasn't a hard switch," Alexander says. "For instinct purposes, it's helped out in terms of the run."

Now, Alexander can play four positions -- strong safety, free safety, strong nickel back and weak nickel back -- and can excel at any one of them.

"There's not a kid who I have coached in my career," says defensive coordinator and secondary coach Ray Priore, now in his 16th season on the Penn sidelines, "who we've asked to do that much stuff and has been able to do it. I tip my hat to him."

Alexander is able to combine a mixture of size and speed, which makes him downright deadly at any position. At 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, Alexander is as big as some of Penn's defensive linemen, but he still has a dynamic first step.

"For a big guy, people don't think he's that athletic and moves well," Priore says, "but he can break on the ball."

Perhaps his versatility was best exemplified in Penn's victory over then-No. 4 Lehigh on Sept. 28. With the Quakers' offense struggling to put anything together early in the contest, Alexander picked off two first-quarter passes, setting up 10 Red and Blue points. Alexander also had two touchdown-saving tackles that game.

"He's one of those ball hogs," Faulk says. "He's always around the ball."

"A lot of guys are out there on the football field and can play 60, 70 snaps, and they don't make a pass breakup or a tackle," Priore adds. "Vince does it all. That's the bottom line."

Alexander, though, hasn't always had the opportunity to show off his skills. Penn's secondary has been deep since he arrived in 1999, and only this season, with the graduation of first team All-Ivy performers Kunle Williams and D.L. Bouldrick, has Alexander gotten the chance to truly make a name for himself.

"Last year, me, Kunle and D.L. knew Vince's capabilities," says Faulk, who was Penn's starting cornerback last year. "It's not like a thing where he came out of the blue and became a great player. He's always had the talent, he just hasn't had the opportunity to showcase it. Now this season, he's getting the chance, and he's showing what kind of player he really is."

Alexander has relished in his new role as a defensive sparkplug and team leader. He may not have the fire and juiced-up intensity of some other players on the team, but as a senior he definitely leads by example.

"Before the game, I'm not pacing around, foaming at the mouth," Alexander says. "I'm just listening to my headphones. I get ready by just being relaxed. I don't lose focus on what I'm really supposed to be doing out there -- having fun. And anytime I'm having fun, that's when I'm playing my best."

This, then, must be a fun-filled season.

Alexander has his eyes set on football after graduation, but he's not getting his hopes up too much. If a pro career doesn't pan out, he'd like to work in sports administration and sports marketing, so he can always stay near his passion.

But until then, Alexander is ready to do whatever it takes -- stop the run, blitz the quarterback, pick off the pass -- to lead his team to an Ivy League title.

"He's not the most gifted player," Priore says. "He's not the fastest, he's not the guy who can jump to the top of a building. He's just a football player."

Good thing he decided to become one.

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