Alonzo Carter is still too legit to quit.
He’s in his first year as the running backs coach for San Jose state. But as Jason Appelbaum shows us, that description doesn’t even come close to telling his remarkable story.
Thirty years ago he was a lead dancer for MC Hammer.
And his new San Jose Spartan football community hasn't let him forget his parachute-pants-wearing heyday of the '90s. Even though he's been a football coach for most of his adult life, it was his dancing days with Hammer that shaped his approach to the game -- available on display this Saturday at 4:30 against the Cal Poly Mustangs.
“He (Hammer) was a perfectionist as an entertainer,” Carter said. “I got a lot of that from working with him and wanting to be the best”
The college scene is important to Carter, who left Cal State Hayward his junior year in the late '80s and returned to earn his degree and walk the stage just last year.
In April this year, a video of him displaying his footwork at practice to chart-topping “U Can’t Touch This” propelled the program to the national stage. It blew up on social media. Loads of retweets and shares – complete with a shout-out from Hammer himself – brought considerable attention. And over 70,000 views on YouTube. The recognition continued when Hammer, the famed '90s artist, stormed the field during a Spartan’s scrimmage in late August.
But the internet hadn’t had their full fix.
“I think in the beginning people were like, ‘Who is this guy?” Carter said.
During the week before the Spartans season opener, the video again went viral.
Carter is a Bay Area native like Hammer. Growing up in West Oakland, he was one of four children raised by a single mom. His father was in and out of jail and absent for most of his life. Carter played football and ran track at Cal State Hayward and was attracted to dance as a kid in the '80s, so naturally he became a fan of Hammer.
Carter made his way into Hammer’s videos in college after he and his crew auditioned for the “Let’s Get it Started” video. It was the beginning of a road that would give him his first coach-like role – a lead choreographer, responsible for inventing and perfecting Hammer’s world famous moves.
Three years on tour, twelve music videos and a heck of a new wardrobe, plus appearances on Oprah and The Arsenio Hall Show. The early '90s were live for Carter, who was in his early-twenties at the time.
But when efforts to evolve his presence in the music world were thwarted by a changing industry and young child, Carter returned home to Oakland. And that’s when he found coaching, fueled by a passion to give back to his community. From volunteering at McClymonds High School (his and Hammer’s alma mater) to turning Berkeley High’s program around, he landed the head coach position with Contra Costa College in 2010. In 18 seasons with the three programs, Carter won 11 league championships and seven Coach of the Year awards.
But there was a lingering void from business formerly set aside to tour the world. He never finished college and he wanted that degree.
“So I went for it. Working a full time job and coaching, I went to school and persevered through it,” Carter said. “I got my degree and finally walked the stage last year.”
Carter got the call for the San Jose State position shortly after Brent Brennan was awarded his first head coaching job. Brennan and Carter established a relationship that grew close when Brennan was recruiting from the Bay Area during his time with Cal Poly and as an assistant with San Jose State.
Carter credits Hammer for his ethic and now recognizes an opportunity to use his successes and attention to positively influence his players.
“I want them (players) to see me as a role model – as a live example,” Carter said. “If I can do it, they can do it.”