These guys are like another family to me. They are my brothers, all of them. I love them. It was a real hard transition. I did what I had to do to come back and I’m ready. —Utah State safety Maurice Alexander

LOGAN — In the middle of a deep and talented Utah State defense, there is one relative unknown that many close to the program are projecting to have a big impact in 2013.

Maurice Alexander has donned an Aggie uniform before, but fans and teammates alike are buzzing about the prospects of his return.

Alexander’s defensive teammates love his combination of size and speed protecting them at the safety position, while his offensive teammates are counting down the days until fall camp is over so they can watch him hit somebody else.

“He hits pretty hard and he’s athletic, so that makes it hard,” running back Joe Hill said about facing Alexander in practice. “I raced him once and he has a few more gears than you’d think.”

The sight of Alexander roaming the defensive backfield is not one that many USU folks thought they would see again. In 2011, the junior started eight games in a Utah State uniform and collected 45 tackles and three sacks, showing signs of being a budding talent at linebacker.

However, an altercation with a teammate following the season seemed to derail that potential. The soon-to-be senior was not only expelled from the team by former head coach Gary Andersen, but also faced legal trouble. Alexander pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of aggravated assault, and spent the remainder of the year working to atone for his mistake.

Among the most difficult things for the exiled athlete to overcome was witnessing his teammates reel off the best season in school history while he watched from afar.

“I love seeing them win, but it was hard for me. ... These guys are like another family to me. They are my brothers, all of them. I love them,” said Alexander. ”It was a real hard transition. I did what I had to do to come back and I’m ready.”

Now back with the Aggies for a second shot at his senior year, there are almost no signs that Alexander ever left. He is among the most beloved teammates on the squad. He performs even the most mundane drills with a big smile on his face — happy to be back doing something he loves.

“To have a player like that is great because Maurice brings 100 percent every time he steps foot on the field,” cornerback Nevin Lawson said.

Lawson knows better than most the effort Alexander had to exert to get back in the starting lineup. Transitioning from linebacker to safety, Alexander now coordinates with Lawson in the defensive backfield. Rather than blitzing up the middle, Mo, as his teammates call him, will guard Lawson and the rest of the defense from being beat deep.

Alexander's move has been a gradual one. In spring ball the challenge was not just adjusting to a new position, but fine-tuning his body into playing shape and getting in the groove of practice again. By the time the spring game arrived, however, Alexander was one of the standouts of a very talented defense.

“I’m really enjoying it,” Alexander said of the move. “I love being the back end. The team holds me accountable for being back there. I’ll take that challenge all day.”

Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has also taken note of the positive attitude and hard work that Alexander has put into the position change, noting the huge strides the St. Louis native has made from spring ball to fall camp.

“From a mental standpoint he’s been good and he brings a physical presence that I don’t know if we’ve had here for a while,” Orlando said.

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At 6-2, 212 pounds, Alexander not only possesses excellent physical traits for a safety, but also has the skill to efficiently punish ballcarriers when presented with the opportunity.

“With his experience at linebacker he can hit like a train,” linebacker Kyler Fackrell said. “He’s really athletic and really explosive. I’m excited to see what he can do.”

While fans and teammates can't wait to see the "runaway train" unleashed on opposing teams, there is nobody more excited for his return to the field than Alexander himself, who hopes to make the most of his second chance with the Aggies.

Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.