By Bradford William Davis
When Kwon Alexander directs children through football drills around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice field, it's clear he values the concept of opportunity.
“Where I’m from, a lot of people don’t make it,” said the third-year linebacker. “So right now, that’s what I’m giving them. A chance to make it. Opportunity.”
He relishes his own opportunity to make a difference, just as he does the opportunity these kids receive through charitable programs like Buccaneers Academy, which, on this day, has brought hundreds of students to meet and practice with the team.(The event is part of HBO’s Corporate Social Responsibility mission to engage with the communities where shows -- like this season of Hard Knocks -- are filmed.)
Buccaneers Academy serves children from Title 1 schools in the Tampa Bay area, offering them meaningful interaction and relationships with the team alongside structured physical activity and education applied to football. The program helps over 16,000 students and 2,200 teachers with their holistic curriculum. It’s the sort of mentorship Alexander wishes he had, and a reason he’s embraced the program.
“I ain't had many athletes or role models where I'm from,” said Alexander, who hails from Anniston, Alabama. Alexander adds that he wants each kid mentored to make the most of this chance and “live each day like it's their last.”
Living every day like it’s their last -- or “Siege The Day, ” the Buccaneers’ punny, pirate-themed slogan plastered along the Raymond James Stadium walls -- takes on a deeper meaning in the context of Alexander’s full story. Two years ago, his 17-year-old brother, Broderick Taylor II, was shot and killed in their hometown.
At his darkest moment, Alexander pressed forward with a career-defining game. Just two days after the shooting, he suited up for the Bucs and dished out 11 tackles, an interception, and a dramatic strip from Atlanta Falcons star wide receiver Julio Jones. Though only a rookie, Alexander's astounding play led his team to an emotional 23-20 victory.
This was not a one-off moment of leadership for Alexander. Many Buccaneers staffers, even the ones outside football operations, identify him as their favorite player. Michael Clayton, the 15th overall pick in 2004, rattles off Alexander’s name, right alongside team captain Jameis Winston as a “pillar of the team.”
At the practice facility, Alexander’s brand of enthusiasm is in the air. As the children sat in an auditorium awaiting the Buccaneers cheerleaders to lead them in team chants, one young woman made her way to the front of the room. Jania, one of the youngest kids in the program, danced on the stage, leading the hundreds of kids like she was auditioning for a spot on the cheer squad.
Later, Winston led a team huddle calling out the importance of getting straight-A’s, then showed them how to run a tight receiving route. (The kids celebrated each successful completion with touchdown dances.)
Many of the children, like Cleveland, 8, said their favorite part of the day was their juking drill with Alexander. Why?
“I got to break Kwon’s ankles!”
Both the player and the fan were grateful for the opportunity.