Safety Alex Dale has stepped into the Blue Raider starting lineup this season and provided good returns on his play so far.
The redshirt junior started his first three career games in Middle Tennessee’s first three games. He currently ranks second on the team in tackles with 20, one less than his entire output from last season.
Though he has shown maturity in his hard work and constant drive to get better on the field, it is what Dale has overcome off the field that shows his true character.
His father, Frederick, passed away when Dale was 18 years old. After his death, Dale struggled with trying to decide whether or not he even wanted to continue playing football.
“I’ve had some hard times feeling like I didn’t want to play anymore, but it is a big motivation knowing I stuck with it even though my biggest fan isn’t there watching me,” he said.
He could have hung up his cleats and stayed in his hometown of Memphis with his family, but he found a will to get back onto the field to try and improve and prove to himself he could play at the Division I level.
“I wish he could have seen me play one game, but I know that I would still be doing the same things even if he was here,” Dale said. “I know he’d be proud that I’ve stuck with it.”
Starting his first game against Alabama A&M in Week 1 was the culmination of a long road on and off the field for Dale.
He originally committed to the University of Cincinnati after graduating from Memphis University School. But, after being told he would be grey shirted for his first season, he chose to transfer. That’s when MT came to the rescue, so to speak.
“In high school the schools that were recruiting me all had coaching changes, and this was the only one that didn’t,” he said. “I enrolled like two days before the semester started and my first practice was the first day of spring. It was kind of a whirlwind of a deal, but I’m happy I’m here now.”
Dale had to sit out the 2012 season because of NCAA transfer rules, and then as a redshirt freshman in 2013 he didn’t compete in any games.
Though he wasn’t getting game action, he showed maturity in the way he never gave up on the team, knowing eventually his time would come.
Dale finally started seeing playing time on special teams in his redshirt sophomore year, but he found another bit of adversity when an ankle injury limited him to just eight games played.
“It was frustrating,” he said. “I feel like I could have helped out and helped us get to a bowl that year, but I was just being patient. Being patient is what got me here.”
Dale returned last season healthy and hungry to get back on the field. He saw more time in the secondary, playing in all of the Blue Raiders’ 13 games. He racked up 21 tackles and led the team with three forced fumbles. He also had two interceptions, one of which he ran back 34 yards for a touchdown.
With the graduation of Tennessee Titans third-round draft pick Kevin Byard, who led the team with four interceptions last year, Dale finally got the chance this season to prove he belongs in the starting lineup. So far he hasn’t disappointed, ranking second on the team in tackles with 20 and second in pass breakups with two.
Dale’s good play isn’t that much of a surprise for his coaches because of the hard work he has put in over his four years at Middle Tennessee.
“I think he’s just wanted to be that guy and he’s worked hard to get there,” safeties coach David Bibee said. “He studies film and does what it takes to be able to play that position. You get what you put in, and that’s how he’s kind of done things.”
Bibee also said he has seen Dale take more of a leadership role this year in the secondary while his play has escalated.
“He leads by example and is vocal, too,” Bibee said. “The more you play and the better you do, the more you’re listened to. A lot of times leadership has to do with how you’re playing and the role you play for the team.”
Dale’s maturity and leadership are big bonuses for a Blue Raider defense that is replacing six starters from last season, including both starting safeties.
His character isn’t going anywhere, and if he can keep up his strong play Dale can help MT become a formidable defense. Through three games it appears he has his sights set on doing just that while knowing in his heart his dad would be proud of the man he’s become.