MISSOULA — The cold air whirled through Hellgate Canyon into Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Tuesday, prompting senior safety Korey Alexander to wear two hoodies and sweats to practice. 

The Pittsburg, California, native has slowly acclimated to the frigid Montana winters. But he sure didn't start out that way. 

Alexander's first winter after transferring from Los Medanos Community College was a bit of a shock.

"The first winter was a culture shock," Alexander said. "As you can see, I'm definitely in sweats and a hoodie for practice. It was different, but the more time here, the more time you get to adjust to it. I got adjusted. I feel like I got a little Montana blood in me now."

Alexander said he'd seen snow before in Reno, Nevada, and at Lake Tahoe in California, but living in it is a different ballgame. 

"When you go to Reno or you go other places, you get to go back home," Alexander said. "Now, you're really stuck in it for some months. Definitely didn't like it."

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After high school, Alexander played football for two years at his local community college. As a freshman defensive back, Alexander had three interceptions, three forced fumbles, four tackles for loss, 1½ sacks and 46 tackles.

Alexander followed up that season with 12 pass breakups, two forced fumbles and 41 tackles. His efforts earned honorable mention honors in the Pacific 7 league of the California Community College Athletic Association. 

"Playing there was really fun," Alexander said. "It was a great system. Just being able to put your talents out there, pushing forward and pushing yourself to do your best and put you in position to make the best plays." 

Alexander didn't want his playing days to end, but he heard crickets from coaches around the FCS.

That is, until Montana cornerbacks coach JB Hall saw his tape.

"Once he saw my film, he got back to me real quick," Alexander said of that interaction with Hall. "We talked for a couple weeks and he wanted to get me out here for a visit."

Alexander visited Montana on May 31 and June 1, 2016. He committed while on his visit. 

"I loved it," Alexander said. "It's beautiful."

He added: "When I saw the team, it looked like a tight atmosphere. I love the city as well. The stadium, I think it speaks for itself. It seemed like a great program to be a part of, especially with a lot of tradition. I looked it up. The tradition and pride here, just wanted to see it and loved it."

Alexander's time on the field has been limited since he became a Griz. 

When he was being recruited, Montana had a safety shortage. Soon after Alexander committed, Justin Strong transferred in from Oregon State.

"He kinda slid down the depth chart in that way," defensive coordinator Jason Semore said. "But he's a great teammate."

Alexander is a unique player in Semore's eyes.

"I've only come across a few (like Alexander) in my years of coaching, but he's a dude that plays better in games than he does in practice," Semore said. "The more competitive the environment, the better he's gonna play."

Alexander makes the most of his opportunities, as Semore said he only plays about 10 snaps a game. But he has nine tackles, a forced fumble, tackle for loss and a pass breakup.

"We call him a 'gamer,'" safeties coach Shann Schillinger said. "He doesn't get a ton of opportunities, but, we put him in at Portland State and he has a key pass breakup on third down that stops that drive. We put him in at Idaho State. He rushes the quarterback, sacks him and forces a fumble. He's a guy that finds ways to make plays.

"When the lights come on, Korey doesn't back down. Ultimately, that's what you're looking for as football players. He does it well for us."

Semore echoed Schillinger.

"When Korey's on the field, he always has the chance to make a big play," Semore said. "... There's certain dudes when there on the field, the ball just happens to find them. They're always in a position to make a play. Some guys are like that. Korey's one of those guys.

"When he runs out on the field, it's exciting when we sub package because that's what we look for when we talk about building our packages to get off the field on third down, who has the savvy ability to make big plays, because those are your money downs.

"You have to make those plays. That's what Korey brings to the table. He's one of those guys. He's a gamer. Not the most productive dude in practice, but on game days, he's a playmaker."

***

Everyone makes mistakes, and Alexander made one last week at Weber State.

At the beginning of the second quarter, Alexander was ejected for targeting after bringing down Wildcat quarterback Stefan Cantwell.

"After looking at the play, I just gotta keep my head up and see what I'm hitting," Alexander said. "You gotta live with the calls that are made. It happens but we're gonna move on and understand what I did and I gotta understand my corrections that I gotta make."

Alexander said he absolutely learned from it. 

"You never want to keep guys from playing physical," Semore said. "That's what I spend most of my time doing is trying to get guys to play hard and play violent and things like that. Some of those things are split second decisions.

"You have to be able to make high-speed choices when you're playing football. In life, a lot of times you get to process everything that's around you and the circumstances and the environment that you're in and make choices. Football's about high-speed decisions. You have to have more mental discipline to be able to do that.

"It's just one of those things that comes with experience. Korey hasn't played in a lot of games. He hasn't been put in a situation to make high-speed decisions and things like that and he gets excited because he only plays 10-15 plays a game."

Semore continued: "It's not one of those things where you try to get Korey to not play as physical because he didn't do it on purpose. He's just trying to make a play. ... Obviously something we have to work on too as far as how we attack the quarterback and things like that to make sure A. Korey's safe B. the other team's quarterback is safe, because you never want injuries and things like that. We'll go from there as far as that stuff goes."

***

Alexander has three more guaranteed games with the Griz, but he's trying not to think about his college career coming to an end. 

"It hasn't hit me yet," Alexander said. "I don't want it to hit me yet, until whenever that last game is. I think we're gonna win out and we get to play some more games and see where it goes with that, but I'll let it hit me when it hits me. I don't want to force it."

He's just trying to enjoy every minute he has left with his teammates.

"They're great guys to be around," he said. "Being around those guys, we all push each other to get better. It's always a fun group. Never letting each other slack. It's just a great group of guys. Love each other."

His coaches, namely Schillinger, said they're going to miss Alexander when he's gone. 

"He's always a happy-go-lucky kid that's another kid that is very, very well respected in the locker room," Schillinger said of Alexander. "Fun to be around. He's a mellow laid back dude but is very well respected among his peers and he's a kid I'm gonna miss. He's been fun to be around and appreciate his effort. He's been a good addition to this program."

Once his football playing career is over, Alexander wants to go into law enforcement and be a probation officer for juveniles.

"Just want to help kids who don't really have an outlet," Alexander said. "Like a lot of kids I know that get in trouble. Just want to give them insight and help them, steer them toward the right direction.

"I played football. It got me here. Just try to push them in the direction of football, other sports or whatever their passion is. I know a lot of kids who stay in the streets and stay in trouble and stuff like that. I definitely want to help with that."

But for the time being, Alexander's just worried about finishing his playing days right for the one school that took a chance on him. 

"Not a lot of FCS teams, none of them pulled the trigger on me," Alexander said. "This is the one that did. I'm forever grateful for that."

Amie Just covers Griz football for the Missoulian, among other things. Follow her on Twitter @Amie_Just or email her at Amie.Just@406mtsports.com.

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