Coastal Carolina defensive coordinator Mickey Matthews joked that senior Alex Scearce has “eaten” his way to linebacker.
And Scearce’s skills as an offensive player in high school have translated nicely to the college game, moving to the Chanticleers’ defense upon his arrival.
He was a standout wide receiver and also played running back at Lake Norman Charter School (N.C.), before making his way to Coastal Carolina for his freshman year in 2013 and was moved to safety, starting seven games at the position before going down with a season-ending injury. The next year, Searce was moved to linebacker near the middle of the season and has been comfortable at the position and on a steady incline ever since.
“I think Alex is a really good athlete and doesn’t make the same mistake twice,” Matthews said. “Our linebacker coach Ryan Goodman has done a good job with him. They have a good connection and I just think he’s a good football player. He’s also our backup punt returner, which is unusual for linebacker. If that says anything.”
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Last season, Scearce led the Chants in total tackles with 79 (6.6 per game) and this season he has picked up right where he left off. After four games, Scearce’s 26 tackles leads the team and he has three interceptions, which is also best on the team and is tied for second in all of NCAA Division I with 21 others.
It’s no shock to those who know him, but Scearce said he has surprised himself.
“I feel great about the plays I’m making this year compared to past years. Last year I was the leading tackler but wasn’t feeling as good about my plays,” he said. “This year, it’s a big turnaround. I think it’s been going great and I want to keep it going.”
One of those interceptions Scearce returned 31 yards for a touchdown during last week’s 41-21 victory over Furman.
I came in playing as a true freshman and was kind of ignorant to the process. I didn’t really know much because it was pretty simple back in high school. I really wasn’t ready for how intense it is in college. I wasn’t as successful at a young age. I think over the years working with the coaching staff and these guys that I was able to get down what I needed to know and play a lot better. But a lot of people don’t realize how tough it is switching it up and playing different positions.
Coastal Carolina senior linebacker Alex Scearce
Prior to this season, he hadn’t intercepted a pass since a 2013 win over Liberty, and he hadn't scored a defensive touchdown in his college career prior to Saturday's game.
“It was definitely nice to finally take one back to the house,” Scearce said. “I’ve been waiting a long time to actually pick the ball up and run with it. In high school, I was used to getting the ball all the time. Finally, He came close to an interception in the team’s 27-26 loss to FCS powerhouse Jacksonville State in Week 3 that went through his hands. Scearce beat himself up over that one.
“Yeah, he took it pretty hard,” Matthews said. “We got on him pretty hard too because he has really good hands.”
The thing is, when Scearce got to Coastal Carolina he felt like he wasn’t prepared. However, he started adapting pretty quickly.
“I came in playing as a true freshman and was kind of ignorant to the process. I didn’t really know much because it was pretty simple back in high school. I really wasn’t ready for how intense it is in college,” he said. “I wasn’t as successful at a young age. I think over the years working with the coaching staff and these guys that I was able to get down what I needed to know and play a lot better.
“But a lot of people don’t realize how tough it is switching it up and playing different positions.”
As for his personality? Fellow linebacker Shane Johnson said Scearce keeps him and his teammates on their toes, and also spoke of his competitive nature.
We liked [Scearce] in high school. He and Sampson were not okay, they were outstanding offensive guys. Part of the reason they began on defense with us is because they thought, and we agreed, that they’d have a better shot of playing early and both of them wound up starting as freshmen. Richie has stayed a safety. Alex started as a safety and now we moved him to linebacker the last couple of years. He has really come onto his own as a linebacker.
Coastal Carolina football coach Joe Moglia
“We do everything, competing in the weight room, on the field – even running. It’s crazy how much of a competitor he is,” fellow linebacker Shane Johnson said. “He’ll even try to compete with you at breathing. That guy’s hilarious, but he’s a great dude. He’s awesome.”
Scearce was 6-foot-2, 190 pounds coming out of high school, and now in his senior season at Coastal Carolina he stands an inch taller and weighs approximately 220 pounds. He and Richie Sampson were offensive players in high school and both ironically ended up starting next to each other at safety at one point in their freshmen seasons.
“We liked [Scearce] in high school. He and Sampson were not okay, they were outstanding offensive guys. Part of the reason they began on defense with us is because they thought, and we agreed, that they’d have a better shot of playing early and both of them wound up starting as freshmen,” Moglia said. “Richie has stayed a safety. Alex started as a safety and now we moved him to linebacker the last couple of years. He has really come onto his own as a linebacker.”
Even Johnson has seen how much he and Scearce have grown as players and as people since joining the Chants.
“From when we got here, Scearce has grown tremendously,” Johnson said. “He started out as a safety and came down to the linebacker position and has really stepped up. He’s a leader that even I look up to.”
Both Moglia and Matthews also believe if Scearce continues to play at the level he has, the rewards will come.
“As a linebacker, I think he could play at the next level,” Moglia said. “I would not have said that a year ago, but that’s what I see from him now. I’m proud of him.”
Said Matthews: “I certainly believe he can be one of those guys. He has pro size at 6-3, 230 [pounds]. We’ll just have to see. But there’s no doubt in my mind that he has the ability to play at the next level.”
It would certainly be a dream come true should Scearce play beyond the college level.
“I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen,” he said
But for now, Scearce is more concerned with his “brothers,” and their goals.
“I think it’s great what we have here,” Scearce said. “It’s like a real tight family and we don’t let each other down.”
Up next for CCU:
Who: No. 14 Coastal Carolina vs. No. 10 Charleston Southern
Where: Brooks Stadium, Conway
When: Saturday, October 1 at 6 p.m.