Missouri’s Alexander ready to live up to expectations this season

Associated Press and Associated Press

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Missouri coach Gary Pinkel had high hopes for Danario Alexander when he recruited the Marlin, Texas, native. After two injury-filled seasons, the Tigers wide receiver appears ready to live up to those lofty expectations.

Alexander had career bests with 10 receptions and 132 receiving yards in Saturday’s 37-9 win over Illinois in the season opener for both teams. The Tigers host Bowling Green on Saturday in their home opener.

The win over Illinois came in St. Louis on the same field where Alexander broke his wrist in the 2007 season opener, forcing him to miss three games and allowing Jeremy Maclin to emerge as the Tigers’ go-to receiver.

Now, Alexander is hopeful that he’ll finally stay healthy and fulfill his promise.

‘It was relieving to know I could still play at a high level,’ Alexander said. ‘It felt good to leave the game healthy.’

Staying healthy has been the biggest obstacle in Alexander’s career.

After the injury in 2007, Alexander returned for an eight-catch, 117-yard performance against then-No. 2 Kansas in a win that sent the Tigers to the Big 12 championship game. In that loss to Oklahoma, Alexander tore the ACL in his left knee.

After surgery, he tore the ligament again the following spring, forcing him to miss the first two games of the 2008 season. He finished the season with just 26 catches.

The Tigers came into this season with a lot of questions after losing Maclin, tight end Chase Coffman, quarterback Chase Daniel and other stars to graduation or the NFL. Pinkel and new offensive coordinator David Yost believe Alexander will play a key role in guiding a rebuilt offense now under the control of sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

‘It was great to end the game and have him walking off the field and excited and happy,’ Yost said of Alexander.

Six of Alexander’s catches against the Illini came on third or fourth down.

‘He gets open,’ said Gabbert, who was 25-for-33 for 319 yards and three touchdowns. ‘He can also take a 1-yard catch and make it a 30-yard gain.’

As if the praise from his current teammates wasn’t enough, Alexander had Maclin himself on the sidelines Saturday.

‘He was just pointing out little things,’ Alexander said. ‘But he told me on one of my catches he would have scored easily.

‘ Regardless of Maclin’s playful ribbing, the coaching staff is thrilled to have Alexander back.

‘He’s worked so hard to overcome some really hard challenges,’ Yost said. ‘He’s such a good kid and such a gifted kid you want him to have the success.’