|Charlotte DE Alex Highsmith thinking big for senior campaign|
|Preseaon honors include Bednarik watch list|
|Published Saturday, August 3, 2019 6:10 pm|
|CHARLOTTE SPORTS INFORMATION|
|Charlotte 49ers defensive end Alex Highsmith is a preseason All-Conference USA pick as well as a Bednarik Award watch list nominee as the nation's top defensive player.|
Alex Highsmith wants to live up to the hype of a true defensive end.
A 4-2-5 system under first-year Charlotte 49ers (5-7 overall last season; 4-4 Conference USA) coach Will Healy allows the senior defensive end to focus on pass rush, improving his sack statistics. Highsmith, whose three sacks last season were tied for second on the team, broke Charlotte’s single-season record of 17.5 tackles for loss, and finished with 60 total tackles and a team-high eight quarterback hurries.
Highsmith is one of three 49ers to earn preseason all-conference recognition along with senior running back Benny LeMay and sophomore kicker Jonathan Cruz, who was voted special teams player of the year.
“I can tell you, they’re gonna go up for sure,” Highsmith said. “Coach Healy did a great job in hiring a great D-line coach in Marcus West. Coach West has been such a blessing to me and helping me improve my pass rush game. He’s taught me so many moves, and so many little detail things that can help take my pass rush to the next level. Exciting to play a true defensive end this year, and really getting at the quarterback this year.”
Highsmith, who is from Wilmington, joined the program as a walk-on and eventually earned a scholarship in 2017. Count Healy among the impressed.
“What a great college football story,” Healy said. “You’re talking about a guy who walked on here, who now is preseason all-conference, has got some All-American type hype around him and he lives up to it. He is a self-made great football player that I know Marcus West has had a ton of fun coaching. I think he’s dynamic. I think he rushes the passer really well. He’s strong. He’s physical. You hope your best players are also your best leaders, and he’s definitely that.”
Said Highsmith: “I’ve been a confident guy, never arrogant. I feel like there’s a difference between the two. I just always pictured myself being successful—picture success before it happens. One of my best friends, Nick Hancock, has believed in since I was in high school. Just having people around like that, and my family who believed in me too, definitely helped me believe that for myself.”
Highsmith earned a spot on the Bednarik Award watch list as one of the nation’s top preseason defensive players, but it’s not enough. He wants to hoist the trophy at season’s end.
“It has definitely motivated me, but I don’t just want to be on that watch list,” Highsmith said. “I want to win that award by the end of the year.”
The 6-foot-3 Highsmith is also known by his teammates as Thanos, because of his Marvel comics fandom, and his size.
“He’s definitely the big man on campus,” senior defensive end Tyriq Harris said. “Doing all the plays, getting it all done.”
Said Highsmith: “I’m big into Marvel movies. They are my favorite movies. I went to see ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ and ‘Avengers: Endgame’ five times in theaters. I’m big into all the Marvel movies, and Thanos is one of my favorite characters. It feels cool to be called by that nickname.”
Highsmith will buy several movie tickets for his teammates, but they always pay him back.
“What’s funny is Alex buys like 10 tickets at a time every time [Marvel] movies come out, and we all go see it together,” Harris said. “We’ll pay him back for the tickets and everything. The last movie we just saw was the new Spider-Man movie, but we love the Marvel series. I don’t love it as much as Alex. Alex really loves it. I like going to watch it with him.”
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