Before leaving Strikers Lanes, Rob Plant waited for an opening to approach Lorenzo Alexander. He wasn’t seeking an autograph or picture with the Buffalo Bills linebacker.
Plant wanted to shake Alexander’s hand and say thank you.
“Guys like him are the reason that I love the Bills as much as I do,” the 30-year season ticket holder from North Tonawanda said. “He’s a class act. The way he gives back to the community is terrific.”
Plant was one of nearly 200 people who came out to support Alexander’s latest endeavor, Saturday’s charity bowling event in West Seneca to benefit the South Park High School football team and the Belle Center on Buffalo’s lower West Side.
Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy, rookie quarterback Josh Allen and defensive stalwart Jerry Hughes were among the 16 teammates who showed up at the event, sharing the lanes and interacting with fans, South Park players and children from the Belle Center.
“We’re out here to have fun and support ’Zo,” Hughes said. “It’s fantastic for him to be the shining example of our team. A guy who is able to go out there and do so much good for the community. It’s huge for him to set that example, so guys on our team can follow that mold.”
An avid bowler, Alexander hosted charity outings when he played in Washington and in his hometown of Oakland, Calif., over the past eight years. Already active in several outreach initiatives around Western New York, the team’s 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award nominee said he wanted to get the ball rolling on an event here to further support his chosen causes and strengthen his bond with the community.
“At the end of the day, the thing I most enjoy is the relationships that are built there and connecting with other people out in the community who have the mindset to impact youth,” Alexander said. “You can get them together and come up with ways to pool resources and we can work together.”
Alexander has mentored the South Park football team over the past year, inviting players and coaches out to training camp, making frequent visits to the Sparks’ practices and offseason conditioning workouts, helping to purchase school supplies, equipment and Christmas gifts, and sending coach Tim Delaney to the Super Bowl.
“We see him like two or three times a week,” said sophomore Brandon Brown, one of six players who attended the event. “It means a lot because we don’t really have much support.”
“The connection we’ve made with Lorenzo is well and above any expectation that we ever had,” Delaney added. “He’s done some excellent things for the kids.”
Alexander first connected with the Belle Center in October when Bills players made a series of visits to youth centers throughout the city. He promised to return. Lucy Candelario, executive director for the Belle Center, was skeptical.
“They all say that,” said Candelario, who brought eight children from the Belle Center to the benefit. “But Lorenzo’s true to his word. Throughout the year, he has given to the kids and he’s always out visiting. He’s simply an awesome man.”
The two organizations will each receive about $20,000 from the fundraiser. Alexander pledged that amount through his ACES Foundation and said Saturday’s event brought in a similar sum through ticket sales, silent auctions, raffles and sponsor donations.
Preston Teague, the Bills senior director of community relations, helped plan the event, but noted that nobody put more time and effort into the day than Alexander. “He was here early putting signs on the walls and stuffing gift baskets,” Teague said. “He’s truly genuine about this.”
Though Alexander talked some trash with teammate Eddie Yarbrough on Twitter leading into the event, the Bills players concentrated more on connecting than competing at the fundraiser.
“I didn’t bowl great, and I’m a bowler,” Alexander said. “I was more entertaining and hosting so I wasn’t that locked in.”
But when the Bills’ top bowlers, Alexander, Yarbrough and Kaelin Clay, hit the lanes together, the competition gets more fierce.
“Those guys, they are usually in the upper 200s,” Dion Dawkins said. “Me, I’m in the low 200s on a good day. (Saturday) was a pretty bad day. But we’re building bonds. It’s not just an on-the-field thing. It’s good to be around the guys in an environment with a bunch of fans and families.”