COSTA MESA — There were several messages delivered, and messages within messages, and symbolism wrapped in tragedy and triumph when Kermit Alexander spoke to the Costa Mesa High football team Wednesday afternoon.
But before he talked about his life and challenged the young players, he gave some advice intended for the day and the future.
"A lot of times," he said, "if you keep your mouth shut, you'll learn a lot more."
And with that, the CMHS varsity football team listened, as Alexander, the former NFL football player, talked about his life and provided direction.
Even before he spoke, he made an impact, as an ESPN report of his story was shown. That story will become a book, due to be published sometime next year, Alexander said.
And, then there are plans for a movie. Morgan Freeman is set to produce it, Alexander said.
"Oh, it's very exciting," he said.
Some would think the process of unveiling his life would be painful for Alexander, but he has healed through his family and through delivering messages and motivating people as he did Wednesday.
Alexander, a former All-American at UCLA who played 11 years in the NFL as a defensive back with the 49ers, Rams and Eagles, saw his world fall apart when his mother, sister and two nephews were murdered.
The cruel fate was revealed on the screen. The killer, Tiequon Cox, had been introduced earlier in the video, a troublesome boy who had played for a Pop Warner football team opposite of the one Alexander had started in Watts.
Alexander said he could have made a difference in Cox's life, but didn't and instead blamed the murders on himself.
Cox and two others were hired to kill a family, but were given the wrong address, ESPN reported.
"Not a day goes by that I feel that I should have done something," Alexander says in the video. "And to my regret, my family had to pay for my mistake."
Alexander didn't find healing until after meeting his wife, Tami, and more solace when they adopted five Haitian children, three boys and two girls.
The ESPN report showed how the family finally came together, after the death scare from the Haiti earthquake, Jan. 12, 2010.
They now live as a family in Riverside.
Alexander says he now enjoys speaking to people and motivating others.
"It's really my assignment to get people to understand how important they are," he said. "To get them to a position where it's every day they know that their life has meaning.
"The kids need to know we need them as a community. And the only way that they can be helpful is for them to get their education, to work and to learn how to be a good citizen. And to demand that from other people. It's fun. That's my job to touch as many people as I can."
He made an impact on the Costa Mesa football team. After Alexander spoke, some of the Costa Mesa teens playfully practiced the triple jump in the school library because Alexander had talked about his track and field competition days.
One of the kids asked Alexander what his best time in the 40-yard dash was.
"I'm a 4.2 runner," Alexander said with a smile.
And the players reacted with awe.
"Did you ever forgive the murderer? And, where is he now," Costa Mesa senior Oronde Crenshaw asked Alexander.
"Yes, I did forgive him to get on with my life," Alexander said.
Alexander then explained Cox was in jail with no parole, but Tami corrected him, saying Cox is on death row.
"Well, he's not on my team, so I just don't know," Alexander said.
Alexander's team was part of his challenge to the players. He welcomed each player to his team and told them to achieve the best they could in whatever they decided to do. For now, it's the upcoming football season, and the players were inspired by Alexander's message.
"I thought it was amazing," said Crenshaw, the Mustangs' standout linebacker and tailback. "Just to be blessed with the opportunity to listen to somebody who has gone through trials. And to get his life experiences and to hear all the knowledge he has, just to share with us, for not even a penny, it's just so amazing. It's so great of him to do that."
CMHS Coach Wally Grant also appreciated Alexander.
"The message was strong and powerful," Grant said. "He talked about a lot of the messages that we are trying to get across, which are compete, and battle, and be responsible and respectful. School, family, that's first and foremost and then take care of your athletic endeavors. I thought he was great. He was very inspirational."
Alexander spoke in a genuine tone as he told the players to focus on education, as well as uniting as a team for football.
"I want you to be successful," he told them.
Alexander was one of several who came to inspire the Mustangs during their summer speaker series that began this offseason. Other speakers included former NFL All-Pro lineman Jesse Sapolu and renowned sports agent Leigh Steinberg.
The speaker series was started by Katrina Foley, a CMHS booster. Dr. Chuck Hinman, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Secondary Education, was instrumental for bringing in Alexander to speak, she said.
Hinman had asked Alexander about Gale Sayers and reminded everyone that Alexander was the one who crushed Sayers with a tackle that sidelined one of the greatest football players of all time.
"I get people who ask me, 'Why did you do that to Gale,'" Alexander said. "I say, because he got in my way."
Alexander also spoke about the importance of training and conditioning. He said he had the talent to excel, but his work ethic and stamina put him on an elite level.
The way he spoke about training could also be applied to everyday life.
"If you're not in shape and protect yourself, you won't last," Alexander said.
The concept certainly hit home for the Mustangs, who open the season Friday night at Western. They want to be ready for the season. They missed the playoffs last year, going 2-3 in the Orange Coast League. The losses included two by two points and another by a touchdown.
"I bet he opened a numerous amount of hearts on the team and got their heads on straight," Crenshaw said. "We're just ready. We're so pumped for the season. This is history in the making and we can already see it unraveling."
Alexander said he wasn't really there to encourage the kids but to remind them of their responsibility to excel and succeed.
He'll speak at Costa Mesa again in Nov. 1, but will deliver a message to the teachers, Foley said. Alexander might even ask them to be on his team.