SALT LAKE CITY — Job advisers say it’s risky to plan a career in sports. And don’t even think about jumping into the entertainment industry. The odds of success are too long.
Unless you’re Alonzo Carter.
Then you do both and say to heck with the advisers.
Music stars always want to be athletes and vice versa. But not many succeed. Carter has a 10-time platinum record hanging in his office. He has 11 football championships, too.
“Football’s a stage,” said Carter, now the San Jose State running backs coach. “People buy tickets and your stage is the field.”
In that case, the lights are getting hot. His team has been outscored 110-16 in its last two games, the most recent being Saturday’s 54-16 loss at Utah. This week the Spartans play at home against Utah State. For the Aggies, it’s a chance to shake the doldrums of a 1-2 start. SJSU’s only win came against Cal Poly, a school known for engineering, not football.
The Spartans have had only three winning seasons since 1992. But Carter has seen longer odds.
“I don’t care what the score is, you compete,” he said in a phone interview. “Whatever obstacles you have, you give 100 percent, because in the long run, good things will happen to you. Football is bigger than just the game. You’ve got to teach them how to win in life.”
In other words, teach them to be too legit to quit.
If anyone has a right to use that famous phrase, it’s Carter. It took him 30 years to get his bachelor’s degree, but he did so last June, in order to qualify as a college coach. He was raised in hardscrabble West Oakland, but barely crossed its boundaries until he started college.
“Oakland Coliseum was the cutoff,” he said.
Carter had never been to Los Angeles when he graduated high school, never even been 20 miles to Hayward, where he walked onto the small-division football team. His first plane trip was to Northridge for a game between Cal State Northridge and Hayward State (now Cal State East Bay).
Carter had just finished up his junior year when fate intervened in 1989. He and friends had been choreographing and dancing on their own, working small neighborhood events. Answering an audition call for backup dancers with MC Hammer, they got the gig.
Hammer hired them in a half-minute.
San Jose State running backs coach Alonzo Carter, who performed with MC Hammer early in his career, poses with one of his platinum records. | Courtesy San Jose State Athletics
Soon the kid from West Oakland was seeing the world. Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” and “2 Legit 2 Quit” hit Nos. 8 and 5, respectively, on the Billboard charts. In a two-year period, Hammer had four top-10 hits.
But after three years of performing to stamping crowds, Carter realized music was a fleeting business, and left. It turned out a wise move. The clock was striking on Hammer Time, as the megastar never reached the top 25 again.
Through connections at his alma mater, McClymonds High, Carter landed a volunteer position as an assistant football and track coach in 1993, later becoming head coach. He figured his climb from humble beginnings was good enough to help some struggling kids. It helped him, too. His teams at two Oakland high schools won 11 league championships and three California Interscholastic Federation section titles. Roughly 100 former players went on to Division I schools.
He says he had a 95 percent graduation rate.
“I got into coaching, went back to Oakland where I was raised, and decided to teach young kids that they can make a difference,” he said.
Married with six kids, he recently returned to college at CSEB, earning a bachelor’s degree in African American Studies. He’ll need all his book learning to turn around a San Jose State team that so far couldn’t beat eggs. The Spartans are 115th (of 129 teams) in scoring, 110th in total offense, and 125th in scoring defense.
Despite being a coach for several decades, Carter isn’t irked by media attention directed at his brief music career. He remains friends with Hammer, who officiated at his wedding.
“The biggest thing to correlate — where the coaching and dancing meet in the middle — is the training and preparation part,” he said. “When I was doing entertainment, I used my football and track background for my training. So now it’s the other way around.”
His days with Hammer involved rising at 4:30 a.m. and running six miles a day, practicing in the daytime, and performing 300 nights a year. That’s a lot like an assistant football coach’s schedule. Which leads to the question of which career is more difficult.
“I would say 50-50,” he said. “They’re so close, so similar. There’s no gimmes. You gotta do the work.”
In terms of sound advice, you can’t touch that.