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April 16, 2013

NFL Draft Prospect, Syracuse WR, Alec Lemon Interview

by Max Strauss

Former Syracuse WR, Alec Lemon shares his journey with us. Alec Lemon was recruited to play at Syracuse by Greg Robinson, however he was one of three players that Doug Marrone decided to keep their scholarship. He played in games all four years at Syracuse and caught passes to become a leader in the record books. He is 2nd all-time in receiving yards and 3rd all-time in receiving touchdowns for Syracuse. Lemon sheds light on who he has become over the years because of football.

Click here to download the audio interview with Alec Lemon.

Alec LemonCUSE Collage

Alec Lemon : Hey! This is Alec Lemon, former wide receiver for the Syracuse Orange, and you’re listening to

Announcement : Alec Lemon played wide receiver at Syracuse University the last four years. He recently declared after his senior season that he will enter the 2013 NFL Draft, but not before putting his name in the record books. He finished his career third all-time in receiving touchdowns, and second all-time in receiving yards. This past season, he earned First Team All-Big East Honors. Here is our interview. 

Max Strauss : How do you connect with your fans?

Alec Lemon : Whenever I see them on campus, I’ll talk to them. After the games, I tried to sign autographs for fans as often as I can. I reply to a lot of people when they tweet me. I feel like most athletes don’t do that, but I’m one of the few that does. I talk to some on Facebook, but not as much because I’m more on twitter. But, I connect with them in person and on social media.

Strauss : When did you start playing football?

Lemon : I started playing football when I was in the seventh grade. My first position I played tight end and tackle. Whenever it was a pass play, I would switch to tight end, and then if it wasn’t, I would be a tackle. My next year, I played quarterback.

Strauss : What was high school football like for you?

Lemon : I actually came in as a quarterback. In my sophomore year, I was moved up to Varsity and the quarterback in front of me on the depth chart was a year older than me. I figured that I would play wide receiver until he leaves. I fit right into wide receiver though, and it brought me to where I am now.

Strauss : What was high school football like for you?

Lemon : It was fun. Most people don’t have a fun high school experience, but my high school was pretty much a power-house. We weren’t the best team in Maryland, but we were always in the Top 10 for Maryland. We were in the highest division for public schools in the state. We were constantly winning county championship and regional championships. During my junior year, we went to the State Championship and lost a game that we should have won. We had a great coach and great players. Most people didn’t think that we would be good at Arundel, but we had a pretty good team. We threw the ball a lot in high school, and that’s what I loved.

Strauss : What was the biggest challenge that you faced growing up?

Lemon : I would have to say the biggest adversity that I faced was when my parents got divorced, it became my mom, my older brother, and I. I didn’t see my dad as much as I wanted to, so it was kind of tough not having your dad in your life as much as you wanted him. Going through your parents getting divorced, it’s tough on the kids as well. I feel like seeing the struggles that my mom, my brother and I had to go through, like living in an apartment just for us three, seeing my mom work about three jobs, and still go to nursing school. My biggest adversity was trying to understand why my dad wasn’t in my life as much as he was when I was younger. He’s back in my life now, and we have a great relationship, so I can’t ask for much more.

Strauss : How do you think it’s made you a better person and a better athlete?

Lemon : What happened with my parents divorcing, it helped me a lot because my mom didn’t want us to play football. I played soccer when I was younger. When my mom married my step-dad, he was the one that convinced her to let us play. So without my step-dad, I would have probably never played football.

Strauss : What was the recruiting experience like for you? Did you have looks from other schools?

Lemon : When I came out, my high school wasn’t really looked at for football. Another good thing that my step-dad did to help get me to where I am, the summer going into my senior year, we took a road trip for about a month driving up and down the east coast going to colleges and camps to get my name there and promote myself. I went all the way up to University of Connecticut and the furthest that I went down was Tulane. We were all up and down the East Coast during the month of June. Coming out of camps, I had offers from Syracuse and Delaware. I was going to get offers from James Madison and Vanderbilt as well, but I committed to Syracuse so early that those other schools didn’t offer. My step-dad and I both did a lot to self-promote.

Strauss : Were you recruited by Doug Marrone?

Lemon : I was actually recruited by Greg Robinson, and I stayed committed with him. When Coach Marrone came in, he took all of the scholarships of every player that committed to Coach Robinson, except for me, Justin Pugh, and Andrew Phillips. We were the lucky three that stayed committed to Syracuse. Thankfully because I remember when he came and visited my house, he mentioned that this was his first house visit, and that I could relax. He told me that he was taking everyone’s scholarship away except for mine. I was the first person he did not have to do that to. I was kind-of nervous, but very relieved.

Strauss : Your first summer at Syracuse, what was that like?

Lemon : It was different because you’re in college now and you’re on your own. I had to get used to being on my own. I had to get used to big-time football. College football is different, people talk all the time about it. I had to make that adjustment. I had to get used to the speed of the game because everybody is fast. Practice in high school was easy, it wasn’t a walk-through, but it wouldn’t be as intense as practices were in college. I had to get used to the pace and the intensity of everything. Coming in a freshman, you don’t have a spot, so you have to fight for everything.

Strauss : Stepping on the field for the first time in college football is a completely different experience than playing high school football. What are your memories from your first football game?

Lemon : In my first football game for Syracuse, I remember coming out of that tunnel against Minnesota at the Carrier Dome. It was Coach Marrone’s first game, and having Greg Paulus as our quarterback. Running out, and seeing the stadium packed. There were 50,000 plus fans. I had never seen anything like that. In high school, you don’t get anywhere near that. Playing in a dome was exciting. I remember all the fans who were blue and orange and screaming and I remember having so many butterflies in my stomach because I was going to be playing during my freshman year. It was one of the most nervous times of my life, but it was exciting to come out of the tunnel with the fans going that crazy and that loud.

Strauss : Is there a specific touchdown that you remember throughout your whole career?

Lemon : My first touchdown was actually in our last game during my freshman year against University of Connecticut. I remember we were on the two or three yard line, and I ran a route, and I dove in to make sure I got in, but I already was in the end zone. I got up, and I didn’t know what to do, because I was so excited and ecstatic that I scored a touchdown. I really don’t remember what I did. Everyone was making fun of me, and asking me if I had a better touchdown celebration or telling me that I could have done something cooler, and my reply was that I was not expecting to be in there.

Strauss : Every year you improved your stats at Syracuse. That’s something that takes a huge amount of commitment in the offseason. What was training like for you in the offseason and how did you constantly and continually get better during your time there?

Lemon : Training in the offseason was hard. I always wanted to improve from my past [off]-season. I really thought I prepared myself for the weight room, but high school weight rooms are completely different. Once you get to college and the lifts that you are doing are completely different, and the competition is crazy because everyone is putting up high numbers. I really took the weight room very seriously. I was in there a lot of the day. I was running stairs to help make sure that I was in the best shape that I could be in. With the instruction of my wide receivers’ coach, Coach Moore, he told me that one of the biggest things that I could work on was my flexibility as it would help me get faster, help me stay in the game longer, and I took that seriously. In the summer time, I started taking some yoga classes to start working on my flexibility, in addition to working out. My off seasons were tough, but it was very much needed, and it helped me out for the year.

Strauss : How much impact did Rob Moore (WR Coach) have on your collegiate career?

Lemon : I probably tell everyone that’s the best thing that has happened to me at Syracuse. Having a new coaching staff and having Coach Moore come in and become my coach and my mentor. Now, we have a great relationship. Having him as a coach has been unbelievable because he’s played the game. He’s been through Syracuse. He played for the NFL for close to eleven years. He made two Pro Bowls. That says a lot about the player that he is, and he just knows everything and helped me a lot with my technique especially with things that I thought I was doing good at, and he would show me ways to make me better. He really got every bit of ability out in me, and he made me the player that I am today. We have both gone through some ups and downs, but he expects the best from me, and I wouldn’t be where I am without his coaching and without his guidance, and I appreciate everything that he has done for me.

Strauss : Ryan Nassib steps in at quarterback. What is your relationship like with him? And, behind the scenes, how much work did you both put in together, and what was that like working with Nassib?

Lemon : We have a great relationship. This past summer we both went golfing a couple of times together to get away from football and just to relax. He’s a great guy, and I was lucky to have him as my quarterback for three years. Most people have different quarterbacks and they have to get used to in their three or four years and they have to adjust to their strengths, but I was lucky enough to have Ryan. Each year, we were able to set goals and build off of it from each year. We put in a lot of extra work outside of workouts. We would practice deep balls after practice. We would talk to each other about certain looks too. We also watched film together. We did a lot together to help us get to the point that we are at. One of the biggest things that I am thankful for, is that he had a lot of trust and confidence in me. If he didn’t, he would not have thrown the ball to me as much as he did. I’m thankful that he relied on me to make some plays. I also trusted him with every throw and that he wouldn’t lead me into a defender or get me blown up, so we trusted each other and knew what each of us were thinking.

Strauss : You earned First Team All-Big East Honors this past year. What’s it like to get recognition from the conference that you’re playing in?

Lemon : It means a lot. There are a lot of great wide receivers in the Big East. It’s something special. I know a lot of people didn’t think that I would be in the situation where I was, earning First-Team Honors, especially after the first couple of games put me in a bad spot. With the leadership of Ryan and our offense. Coach Hackett trusted me to give me an opportunity to make plays which meant a lot to me, and I had to make the best of it.

Strauss : You have a touchdown pass in your career. Tell me about that touchdown…

Lemon : It was against the University of Southern California during my junior year. We had a double pass and they knew that I could throw the football being a former quarterback. I was excited that in the middle of one of our drives against Southern Cal at their place. Coach Hackett dialed it up like it was a regular play. I wasn’t nervous because I really didn’t have time to think about it, but once Ryan Nassib threw me the ball, I just made sure that I got it to Van Chew because he was so wide open and I didn’t want to throw him out of the end zone. The ball was kind of behind him a bit and he made a great catch and made me look good, but I am lucky enough to say that in college I am 1 for 1 with a touchdown for about thirty yards, so I think my quarterback rating is off the charts.

Strauss : Wow. So you have a 665 Quarterback Rating, and I know you’re a good athlete, but what is tape trash can shooting?

Lemon : So my locker is right next to Sam Rodgers, the long-snapper. Justin Pugh’s locker is two down from mine and Sam Rodger’s locker. After practice, you cut your tape off and you’re sitting in your locker. You throw your tape in the trash or you go dump it in. Sam and I in the beginning of the year would start throwing it in. I would start making fun of him for missing it. He started making fun of me for missing it. Then, Justin started shooting. We made it a game. We each get two shots after practice for each thing of tape, and whoever makes the most wins. It got pretty heated. We had some rules that we had to make up because Sam’s locker is one locker closer than mine to the trash can, so I made him switch with me a couple of times, just to make it even. It was all until the Bowl Game. Our last practice was the Finals for Trash Can shooting, but Sam Rodgers was lucky enough to come out on top, however I still think it’s because his locker was closer than mine.

Strauss : You lost to a long snapper, hopefully, that doesn’t happen in the future…

Lemon : Yeah, I told him that all he does throughout practice is practice for that stuff. He gets ready for it. I play a real position, so I can’t think about it. He mentally gets ready.

Strauss : Your Head Coach at Syracuse, Doug Marrone just left for the NFL [to become the Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills] and a lot of people are talking about him. He was a former offensive coordinator in the NFL and worked closely tight ends and offensive linemen. How much impact did he have in making you a better player and is there a story about him that you can share?

Lemon : Having Coach Marrone helped me out a lot. With the system that he brought to Syracuse and the coaches that he brought, it became a pro-style offense that most teams in the NFL have something similar to what we do. Hopefully making that adjustment will be a lot smoother and easier for me than other people because some of our calls are the same. He brought a lot of stuff that he used with the Saints to Syracuse which helped us out a lot. It helps us go a long way. It’ll make the adjustment easier. As for a story with Coach Marrone, going into my senior year, we were at the Big East Media Day in Rhode Island. We were all sitting there eating lobster and having a good ole’ time laughing and stuff. Seeing a side of Coach Marrone that I had never seen outside of football, it was nice. Seeing coach nice and relaxed and having fun with us and joking around with us and making fun of each other and eating lobster. He’s a laid back guy, and it’s nice to see something like that out of him.

Strauss : What has it been like training for the past few months and training out in Arizona?

Lemon : It was nice. It was a lot warmer than it was here. There was nice, dry heat so I couldn’t complain too much. I was out in Tempe, Arizona at Fischer Sports. We had a great speed coach in Will Sullivan and a great trainer in Brett Fischer who is the head trainer for the Cardinals. It was a great time down there, and it was very beneficial to get away from Syracuse and get away from my family and do what I needed to do. My test days were the Combine and the Pro Day. Being down there was nice and we worked on speed, and that was one of the things that I needed to work on. Some scouts didn’t think that I could run a 4.5. They thought I was a 4.6 or 4.7 guy, so just working on my forty was the biggest thing down there. Also, the fact that after my shoulder surgery I didn’t bench for a whole year. When I got down there on the third, the week after that was the first time that I benched in about a year. I did about eight reps at 225 at the NFL Combine. I felt that it was good because I hadn’t benched in so long, but it was one of the lower numbers. Personally, I feel like I did well because of the major shoulder surgery that I had. We also had a group of guys down there, a lot of good competition, and lot of defensive backs like Jordan Poyer, Logan Ryan, Aaron Hester, and Donovan Henley were out there. There were plenty of freak athletes from other schools and getting to know them and it was a nice time. I made plenty of friends down there like Lonnie Pryor from Florida State, is now a good buddy of mine and we still stay in touch. It was quite an experience out there, but we also got our work done.

Strauss : What was the NFL Combine like for you?

Lemon : It was great. I was actually on the bubble list, and so I was kind of worried that I wouldn’t get in. That was a huge thing. Growing up, I always watched the combine with my brother and one of my best friends, and I said to myself that I want to make it there in my life-time, when it’s my turn. When I got that invite, I was ecstatic. I got the invite while I was at the Senior Bowl. There are about 300 to 350 people who get an invite out of everyone who who plays college football. I was lucky enough to get an invite. It meant a lot and it gave me an opportunity to show my talents in front of various coaching staff. It’s quite an experience. What everyone tells you about the combine is true, it’s good to be at there, and it’s mentally hard and physically hard, but that’s why we train to get ready for that. I was one of the lucky ones to get an invite.

Strauss : Is there someone that you would compare your game to in the NFL right now?

Lemon : One of my players is Andre Johnson so I try to do my best to be like him. I’m not as big as him and can do all the things that he does, but he’s my favorite player. I watch him a lot. But, the more and more I look at it, and also with the influence of other people, I tend to see it myself, I would compare myself to Jason Avant. Avant is a very smooth guy, he makes clutch catches, and he gets open. You don’t see him as a burner, but he’s always open. He’s got great hands. I say Jason Avant is a good comparison in the NFL to me, right now.

Strauss : If a team asked you, “Why should we draft you?” What is your best answer for them?

Lemon : One of the things that I tell everyone is that most people don’t label me as a fast guy or a quick guy, but what I tell them is that I have the ability to get open. Like I said, I run a 4.56, but on film, you’ll see that I am open. I run great routes. I have great hands. I catch the ball with my hands. Once I get the ball in my hands, I make plays afterwards. I play to my strengths. I know how to position my body so that the defender won’t be in the way. I know how to get separation even not being a 4.2 guy. I always find a way to get open. I will tell them that I run great routes, I catch the ball, I’m going to get open, and I’m a guy who is going to help move the chains because that’s what everyone needs. The more first downs that you get, the more chances you get to score a touchdown.

Strauss : If you could describe yourself as any ice cream flavor, what would you be and why?

Lemon (Uncut) : Oooh. That’s a tough one. That’s a good question. I have never thought of this. I would say… Have you ever had cheesecake ice cream from Cold Stones? I would have to say that. The reason is it kind of looks bland, like regular old vanilla or just another type of vanilla. However, once you get a bite of that cheesecake ice cream you know you get that sensation, that good cheesecake flavor, you think it’s some real stuff. I may look a bland or plain guy, but once you get to know me or see me play football, you’re like, “This kid can play.”

Strauss : For someone who wants to play football at a DI level, and  make it to the NFL, what’s the best advice you can share?

Lemon : I would have to say to never let anybody label you or your game. A lot of people didn’t think that I would make it in DI football, and they labeled me as a DII or DIII player. I went out there to prove them wrong, to prove to them that they can’t label the type of player that I am. If you don’t let people label you or think that whatever other people say is true, then the sky is the limit for you. You will go as far as you want to take yourself.

Strauss : I haven’t asked this question in a while, but I might decide to bring it back, and I’ll start with you. Do you have a favorite quote?

Lemon : I don’t really have a favorite quote. I got a picture of a quote on my phone. “If you weren’t present during my struggles, don’t expect to be present during my success.” Just something like that. Just to remember everyone that you went through your struggles with, and everyone that was there for you while you were struggling. Don’t forget the people who you grew up with, and the people who helped you when you were younger. Something like that.

Strauss : Thanks so much for your time Alec. I really appreciate it.

Lemon : Thank you for the interview, and I appreciate what you’re doing. 

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