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Alex Leatherwood's actions have always spoken louder than his words

By Levi Edwards | Digital Team Reporter

Alex Leatherwood is a massive human being.

That was my initial thought when I met the Raiders' 2021 first-round pick. The 6-foot-5, 312-pounder had a sense of intimidation about him just by looking at him.

I reached up to shake the right tackle's hand to introduce myself. My interview with him was a few minutes before he would speak with the media during Training Camp, and it was the first time he would publicly speak since being drafted from the University of Alabama four months prior.

My right hand literally shrunk inside of his, those large hands beneficial to him becoming an elite blocker and Outland Trophy winner. Our exchange of words was pretty basic.

"Hi, I'm Levi Edwards, the team reporter. Nice to meet you man."

"Hey, you too, sir," he replied in a grizzled voice you wouldn't believe is only 22 years old.

Hearing Alex Leatherwood refer to me as "sir" was pretty humorous and actually refreshing to me — Leatherwood is only two years younger than me, and I'm still having a difficult time getting accustomed to people addressing me as "sir" while I'm still in my early 20s.

But hearing him say "sir" was another positive reminder of the classic southern hospitality that Leatherwood and I both grew up around. Yes ma'am, yes sir, no ma'am, no sir – my two parents with Alabama roots raised me to always address people in that fashion.

So with Leatherwood making the move from Pensacola, Florida, – where he was born and raised – I was curious about the transition from the southeast to the West Coast, something I was familiar with as well. And while still adjusting to life in the desert, that Florida Panhandle city he hails from has played a huge role in the young man he's become.

"When you step on the field in a Raiders uniform, do you feel you're not only representing yourself, but your family and the Pensacola community?" I asked.

"One thousand percent," he answered without the slightest of hesitation. "I feel like I represent my city. I got them on my back like I give them hope. I love my city, so I definitely represent them. Growing up in Pensacola – I don't think I could compare it to anywhere else, but I know I loved it growing up there. We had the beach, had a lot of great friends, had a lot of things to do in the city, so it was cool."

Booker T. Washington High School

6000 College Pkwy, Pensacola, FL 32504

In his time in Pensacola, Leatherwood represented the city as one of the best offensive linemen in the country. He attended Booker T. Washington High School, where he rose to a consensus five-star prospect by his junior year. By 2017 he was the No. 1 overall player in the state of Florida and the No. 4 overall player nationally.

At Booker T. Washington, his head coach was 1993 Heisman Winner Charlie Ward, one of the greatest collegiate athletes of all time. Ward won a National Championship at Florida State, was named an All-American and two-time ACC Athlete of the Year, and later was inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame.

He also saw the potential in the young offensive lineman nearly immediately and did his best to maximize it.

"He was a sophomore my first year [coaching] and he had good size, long arms, very athletic," said Ward. "And he continued to develop. He was strong – you saw that – but he had to continue to mature and develop over the course of his years. When I first got there, he had to be pushed a little bit, but he was willing to be coached which is something that definitely helps with the level of talent he possess."


The success and high profile of both Ward and Leatherwood didn't equate to wins on the field — the best record Booker T. Washington post in their tenure together was 4-6 — but where other highly touted recruits may have transferred to a high school powerhouse, Leatherwood chose to stay put.

"I didn't really want to give up on my team," he says now. "I started off at Washington, so I wanted to stay there and see it through. Because of the relationships I built with the coaches and my teammates, I felt it was more valuable than going somewhere else just because."

That loyalty is what impressed Ward the most about him.

"He chose to stay and be the leader we needed him to be for our school," Ward said.

It was Leatherwood's first taste of being an alpha dog in a locker room, which he credits Ward for helping him realize.

"Of course his name holds weight just because of him and his career and what he did, but what I learned from there mostly – I learned the importance of leadership," Leatherwood said. "I felt that was something that we struggled with before he became our head coach, and it was still something that was a work in progress when he was there. But having good leadership on the team and having unity on a team, I really learned the importance of that."

Bryant-Denny Stadium

920 Paul W Bryant Dr., Tuscaloosa, AL 35401

Leadership and unity would be common themes that followed Leatherwood from Pensacola, Florida, to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The five-star product with dozens of Power Five conference offers was deadlocked between attending Alabama, USC and Florida. The "culture and tradition at Alabama" was the biggest factor behind him choosing the Crimson Tide, who were fresh off a 35-31 loss in the National Championship Game when he got there.

"I wanted to go to a program where I was going to be able to compete on a national stage week in and week out," he said. "Go up against the best competition and ultimately win — I wanted to win, that's all I wanted to do. Just wanted to be a part of a winning program and a winning tradition."

Two National Championships and an All-American selection proved it was the right decision for Leatherwood. He was named a captain of the Crimson Tide his undefeated senior season, but one of Leatherwood's biggest contribution to the Crimson Tide may not have even come on the field.

In July 2020, Leatherwood gathered his teammates together to protest the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other unarmed African-Americans who have unjustly lost their lives. The Black Lives Matter movement was sparked from the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and reached new heights with George Floyd's death in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in May 2020.

Leatherwood was a key piece in organizing a march for the players and coaches in Tuscaloosa and wrote a spoken word piece for a video in support of the movement. The video included him, Mac Jones, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, Patrick Surtain II and Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban.

That message, one deeply personal to many, resonated more because of Leatherwood's status as a leader.

"For a group of people to achieve anything, it's going to take all of them being together, being on the same page and having the same mission," Leatherwood said with conviction in his voice. "And just doing the things they need to do to get it accomplished.

"As far as the protest, how that all started was we were in the summer, it was in COVID and we were grinding because we were having hopes of still having a season, and we were always chasing a national championship at 'Bama. But there was just a lot of social turmoil going on outside of the walls of the building while we were in there grinding. But it wasn't like we were all ignoring it. So we wanted to find the best way possible to still get our work done, but also let the world know how we felt about what was going on.

"Being at the University of Alabama, I know we got a huge platform, so [I thought] we should just make a script that's very inclusive, educational and will bring awareness to what's going on. So I just came up with something. It was some words that came to my heart and to my mind that I felt should be spoken. And the whole team got behind it and read the script."

That ability to lead by example on and off the field is what Saban appreciated the most about Leatherwood in his time at Alabama.

"I think Alex probably does as much as anybody from the example that he sets, how he competes, how he plays," Saban said before the 2021 draft. "He's a little bit of a quiet guy but certainly leads by example and has done a really, really good job of that all year long, on and off the field. I think he's demonstrated that the team is really important to him. The players on the team are important to him.

"He's really matured nicely and played very consistently for us."

Allegiant Stadium

3333 Al Davis Way, Las Vegas, NV 89118

Raider Nation's first impression of Alex Leatherwood was through an ESPN live-action draft camera panning over to him dancing with his mom in his Pensacola, Florida, living room.

"What was going through your mind? Was there even anything going through your mind when you found out you were being drafted?" I asked Leatherwood regarding the night his NFL dream came to fruition.

"To be honest, not really anything was going through my mind but a lot of emotion," he replied. "I went back for my senior year at Alabama to be a better player, for the sole purpose of being a better player. So that whole season, that whole offseason, the pre-draft process leading up to that call – it was like a weight finally lifted off of my shoulders. Because I knew all of that work wasn't in vain. I finally got to see what all of that work was for. It was refreshing."

Since coming to Las Vegas, many of Leatherwood's teammates and coaches have described the rookie as a man of few words.

"He doesn't say much. If I get 'Hey, what's up, dog?' out of him that's a lot," joked Richie Incognito.

Offensive line coach Tom Cable has labeled Leatherwood as unorthodox, something that really attracted him to the right tackle. He hasn't run into too many rookie offensive linemen in his career as detail-oriented and low-key in persona as Leatherwood.

"He's very introverted, sometimes he can even be a bit nerdy which is cool for an O-lineman," Cable said during a press conference. "I don't have to worry about him out raising hell or doing this or doing that. And he's a pretty focused guy. He's extremely intelligent. … He's quite well read. Studies, likes to read, things like that. That's not very typical for an athlete or anyone," Cable said with a laugh. "He likes to keep it real – if that's the right word."

In Cable's comments about Leatherwood, the two words "focused" and "real" stand out. That's what immediately popped out to me while speaking with Leatherwood. While he is quiet, it's not a standoffish type of quiet. It's an all-business, laser-focused mentality he has about himself. It's something that he's turned on even to another level since being drafted.

"The biggest thing I've felt like has changed about me is my mindset when it comes to my work," said Leatherwood. "Perfecting my craft, and how I go about being very businesslike in my approach to this game.

"Although I do love [football], but at the same time, at the end of the day I just love to compete. I just want to make sure I'm better every day than the person I was the day before."

Coming off two preseasons wins, Leatherwood has impressed, and he looks like he belongs in this league. He's had several opportunities to showcase his strength and propel the Raiders' run game, which has averaged a little over 118 rushing yards in their two preseason games. He also finished the preseason win against the Rams with a 74.6 PFF grade.

General Manager Mike Mayock named him the starting right tackle after he was drafted, a position he's held steadfast since minicamp. The rookie with the veteran feel to him will be asked to do a lot very early. Expectations are high. Fans hope he can develop into a bookend across from left tackle Kolton Miller for years to come.

Above all else, he can always depend on the fact that he's a massive human being from Pensacola, Florida.

And those broad shoulders are used to carrying the weight of leadership.

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