Coach Alonzo Carter, McClymonds HS, Oakland

The Bear Insider published this interview with Coach Alonzo Carter in the June 2006 issue of the BearInsider magazine. Because this is a "free weekend" across the entire SCOut network, we decided to republish the article here at the website. The interview recorded took place on at the end of April 2006 at Coach Carter's office at McClymonds High School in Oakland.

The number of football players coming from McClymonds to Cal has increased in the last few years. Kyle Reed and Derrick Hill come to mind immediately. Is there a reason why that's happening?

Yes. The main thing is, coach [Jeff] Tedford, when he took over the program, one of the first things he said he wanted to do was put an emphasis on'taking care of home', meaning the Bay Area -- and specifically the East Bay. In his first year, he signed David Gray. David was a red-shirt, so this will be his fifth year coming up.

I've just seen a difference in Cal's recruiting with the [present staff]. They split up the Bay Area, on top of their outside-the-area recruiting. [Running backs coach] Ron Gould, who was responsible for the Oakland kids, has done a good job of establishing relationships all over.

Coach Gould is a very engaging person.

Yes. ... He knows Virdell Larkins from Oakland Tech, and Marshawn Lynch from Oakland Tech. All those kids knew each other and they grew up playing ball against each other. It's important because those relationships help establish a Cal presence in Oakland. Those relationships expanded when you've got [guys like] Robert Jordan and Phillip Mbakogu and the others from Hayward. You can just see the heavy East Bay presence being emphasized in Cal's recruiting.

So we all feel comfortable knowing that Coach Tedford's effort to'take care of home' was the emphasis. So what we did, as coaches, was have dialogue, and explain our comfort level with the staff and their efforts to keep these local guys home. Because in the past we've never felt that was the genuine effort, or the conscious effort of the prior staffs. Not in a negative way, we just felt there was more emphasis put toward some of the Southern California athletes, or athletes out of the area. They were letting a lot of kids [from the East Bay] get away, going to the Northwest schools like Oregon, Oregon State, elsewhere.

So it really does matter who the coaching staff is at Cal, and the attention they pay to the area?

Yes, very much so. Kyle Reed's early commitment to Cal was strictly a comfort thing. He felt very comfortable with the current staff, and mainly Coach Tedford. If Coach Tedford wasn't there, I doubt Kyle would have committed to Cal.

The main thing is the patience that I knew [Coach Tedford] would have with [Reed], to help his continuing development, and I'm very confident in the way Coach Tedford and his staff are dealing with Kyle - they will find the appropriate time for him to explode on the scene.

So talented players who have succeeded at the D-1 level have been regularly coming out of Oakland over the years?

Yes. Just look at the lists - the All-East Bay lists, all the metro lists, and all the various local all-league lists. A lot of these players were local kids, D. J. Williams, Kevin Simon, Maurice Drew. They were really good football players who chose to go [elsewhere]. Cal was always in the mix with these kids, so it wasn't like Cal wasn't there - but [the players] just felt the need to leave. Now you have kids like Marshawn Lynch and Robert Jordan making statements by staying at home, and picking the local school. Now, a year behind them, you've got a Kyle Reed being hosted by those players, and that input puts the emphasis on him staying home. And you've got Kyle Reed now hosting a Derrick Hill, which makes him comfortable about staying home.

Because a lot of times, the athletes don't have anybody to talk to that can truly relate. Cal did have East Bay athletes, but not too many Oakland players mixed into that. So you've got a high influence of Oakland players that are right in the mix of that. And fortunately, for my program, come this fall, three of those kids at Cal will be McClymonds kids.

You have a business card that says, "Academics first." Clearly, from a small high school, in order to graduate nine guys to go into D-I programs, you work hard on the academics.

Yes. It's a struggle sometimes. I'm not always the most-liked person or the most-liked coach. [Just as you came into my office] I was on the phone in a conversation with a parent, in reference to her son's grades. I try to work hand in hand with the parents, making sure they understand what their academic responsibility is. I'll let the athletic part speak for itself. I always tell my kids, you meet me halfway with the academic part, and I'll deal with the athletic part, with the recruiters and all that. You get your test scores, you have your core GPA, and I'll deal with the rest.

Of those nine kids, six of them were already academically qualified last spring. So that made it that much easier to sell those kids [to recruiters]. And as we speak, eight of the nine are qualified. It's something that [the players] buy into, but also it's tough, because in the spring you've got seniors [distracted by'senioritis']. And every year you go through this senior year when they're like, "Oh, yeah, coach." And you get a lot of hot air.

Yes, the senior year is a special time for a lot of kids.

I went to Cal State Hayward. I wasn't on a football scholarship. I went through Upward Bound. In high school, I was here [at McClymonds]. So I knew how to apply to a school that has sports, and get accepted on my grades and my test scores. And I felt like I wanted to bring that to the table as a coach, because one of the biggest disappointments for college recruiters is when you recruit a kid, and you get excited about a kid, and then you pull out their grades and they can't qualify.

Is football an important motivation for these guys, to get their academics up?

Yes, you can use football. I remember Kyle Reed in his ninth grade year, when he was [in the vicinity of] a 2.0 GPA. I challenged him right after summer school and into the fall of his tenth grade, and I asked him, "Do you really want to be a quarterback?" He was here, with his mom and his dad sitting in front of him. And he was like, "Yeah." And then I said, "Because getting a C average contradicts your capacity for that position." "The last thing you want people questioning is your intelligence. And the first thing they look at is that you're getting a C in a public school setting, they're going to question your academics, and they're going to question your intelligence." So from that point on, he felt that he was challenged. And then he was on the honor roll from the tenth grade until he graduated. So I used the aspects of football to motivate him. And we saw what happened, he developed and developed. He developed into a leader and an all-America prospect. But he also developed into an honor roll student, and that was my proudest part about him.

When guys like Kyle, or Derrick, or Josh [Tatum] go on to D-I programs, do you have a sense of pride in that?

Yes, definitely. It's great. ... I feel I've been blessed. God blessed me to be able to have a vision and to be able to help kids and use me as a vehicle to help save their lives ... and being genuine with it. There's no hidden agenda. My only agenda is to see these people and their families rejoice on that signing day.

I look forward to the signing day as much as I do to the season because a lot of times people get caught up in the wins and the losses. But my real win is that first Wednesday in February. I really look forward to it. It's a tradition that we've established here, to try to have five-plus kids [sign] every year. It's something that the kids look forward to, the families look forward to, and the media look forward to.

A lot of people underestimate us, how small [we are]. [What you see here] is the whole school. It has only 600 students, right here. So for us to be able to consistently do that year in and year out, I'm very proud of the accomplishments that we've made as a school and as a community.

West Oakland doesn't get the proper credit that it should, as a community. A lot of people have negative things to say about West Oakland. Our football program, luckily, is able to add something positive to the image of the community.

Is it fair to say that there's a parallel between football and the military, where a guy gets a lot of discipline, a lot of hard work, and a lot of strength and conditioning work? Many young men find the military to be good training for life. Does something like that happen in football too?

The military is a very good example. That's why a lot of people use parallels about going to war and such. Some of it gets taken out of context, but even me, I've got my military style outfit, my [own type of] fatigues. Because it's a mindset for football, especially because you feel like you're in a battle. And it takes a lot of discipline. The military is the same way.

You can turn your program into a military type of environment with discipline. That's why programs like De La Salle do really well. You'll go see a De La Salle football game and the first thing you think about is how disciplined their athletes are. They're not the biggest all the time, they're not the strongest, but they're so disciplined. And then you look at the coaching staff and it reminds you of, hey, that's how I want my staff to be.

I've had the pleasure of meeting the coaches there, exchanging conversation with them, and I've always looked to their program as the point of comparison. They were, to me, the mark, as a program. And they still are the mark. Once upon a time, we wouldn't have even had that conversation. Now, we are mentioned in the same breath as De La Salle, Long Beach Poly, Dorsey, and Crenshaw. There's a statewide respect that our program has earned, within a four- or five-year window.

And a lot of that has to do with the growth of Cal. They've done the same thing. I've patterned a lot of our stuff after their program. I remember one of my coaches teasing me, after going to the spring ball game and the summer camp they had at Cal. I came back with all these ideas. And he said, "Who do you think we are? We're Cal now?" [Laughs.] "The year before, we were San Jose State and now we're Cal."

So I just have a high respect for the organization, and the way Coach Tedford and his staff has structured their program. As a high school, we try to be as close to that as we possibly can, as far as structure and the way they run their practices ... to a T.

I've watched you on the field coaching football games, and there have been times when you got really angry with a player. Are you working to get a player to pay attention to what he's supposed to be doing on the field? Is anger sometimes a part of your discipline?

Yes, I'm a detail person. I'm a details freak. Because I believe that we can win all the games. A lot of programs run various offenses or defenses and think they're a high school team. And they may win games but not all of those philosophies are going to help your kids win games and also help prepare them for the next level.

So a lot of time my kids worry and [will say], "Man, coach is doing too much." Or, "Coach acts like we're in college." And I'm like, well, you're one step from being in college. If you realistically want that to be one of your goals, let's start right now. You're at'McClymonds University'. Let's start now.

[Allow me to be] stern and tough on you. When you leave my program, the consensus of every kid that I now have playing D-1 football is that they come back and say it all the time. "Coach, I was never more in shape than I was when I was in high school." Or, "I never did more running than I did when I was in high school."

As far as the verbal discipline, they can laugh -- not laugh it off -- but now they can say, "There's nothing that [my new] coach can do to break me because I just left one of the most militant, in-your-face type coaches." So, it works for some kids.

But it doesn't work for everybody. One thing that I've learned, even this year, is that I've had different personalities. I have to kind of, pick and choose my spots. Who I can really get on, or who I'll have to pull to the side. Sometimes these young men take verbally challenging them as embarrassing, so I'm more mindful of that now. A couple of my [former] kids came to games this year and they said, "Hey coach, you're going soft." [Laughs.] "Are you going to let that slide?" ... Well, this is a different group of kids. So every year, you adjust.

Kyle is a good example. I used to always ask him, "Are you a pain freak?" Because you could get right, smack nose-to-nose with him, and he'd just grin and smile and take it in stride, and move on. And be apologetic about his mistake, and try to get better at [things]. That's not the case with everyone.

Derrick [Hill] is like that, too. Derrick goes eye-to-eye with me. He's bigger than me, so I can't use the physical intimidation. But I think Derrick will do very well at Cal, being coached by a coach like [defensive line coach Kenny] Delgado. He's a hands-on, high-energy type of coach. Derrick will respond to that.

That's another reason why my kids pick Cal. We were comfortable with the coaching styles. Kenny Delgado was a big factor with Kyle and then Derrick Hill in picking Cal, and Coach Tedford was a major factor with them too.

What was your path into coaching?

It was unusual because it was not something I thought I would do. I graduated from McClymonds, '86, and went to Cal State Hayward, like I said. I played football and I ran track there for three years.

Then I had a five-year stint in the music business. A lot of people don't know that story. But I was a dancer for [rapper] MC Hammer. I was on top of the world. I was with him when he was at his apex. I was the head choreographer. I choreographed [the video for] "Can't Touch This" and the movie, "Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em."

I was the one responsible for the training, getting out there and running. Hammer would get up there, on TV, and brag about our regimen, as far as our running four miles a day, lifting weights, all the rehearsals in the studio, and all that stuff. I was the one that would set all that stuff up.

So I felt that once I came back off tour, after being in the music business, I looked at my resume -- I was telling [Cal wide receivers coach Dan] Ferrigno this last night -- when I went from school into entertainment, I thought, "What am I going to put on my resume? Dancer?" The answer was nothing. It wasn't like I was messing around [during that] time. I was busy and working hard. But what do I put on my resume?

So, I wanted to work with children. I wanted to either get into social work or [something like that]. My godmother had a group home. And I wanted to work for her group home. I learned that you could be paid a little bit more money if you have more experience, working with kids. So I came back to [McClymonds] in 1993 and volunteered my time as an academic mentor. The following year a head track coach position became available. They offered me the job in 1994.

My first year, we took dead last and I wasn't too happy about it. Everybody said, "Ain't that the guy with Hammer?" [I went through] all the jokes and different stuff. At the time, we still had videos that were showing on TV. So the kids would be like, "Hey, I know you!" It was a challenge for me just to deal with it, day to day.

But I came back. Because me, being from here, I'd say, "Yeah, you see me on the Grammy's or the American Music Awards, or all that stuff, but I'm just like you. I'm from here."

I wanted to come back; I wanted to give back. So after we took last that first year, and after I was ridiculed by the public, I had to turn to myself. Just like I did with the entertainment thing, when we were at the apex of that. If I want to be a coach, I want to be at the apex of that. The following year, our track team won the [Oakland Athletic League] championship. And we won like six straight.

Two years into the track thing was my first year as a football coach, in 1995. I was a defensive coordinator for the JV team. Then they offered me a position on the varsity staff, and the junior varsity staff. So I was the head JV coach and the varsity defensive coordinator. I was young, so I was able to coach both. I did that for four years. It kind of wore on me. But what really disappointed me at the time was Skyline was putting five or six kids into Division 1 [colleges] every year. And I used to wonder, why aren't the other Oakland schools able to match what Skyline was doing, because athletically, we had just as much talent. The answer was we didn't have the grades.

With that understanding, and the dynamics of the clearinghouse and all those different things, it took me into 1996, when I had my first class of five that signed. Two of them signed with Fresno State, and I became good friends with Kelly Skipper, who was the running backs coach at Fresno State.

The Fresno State coaches gave me the form. "If you want coaches to come to your school, here are the things you have to have." And it was all academics. "You, as a coach, have to know how to break down transcripts, project GPAs, and so on." So I created my own bio log. All my juniors are already ready this year. And here's all the seniors (reaching out to pick up a stack of folders). Each kid has his own folder. If you're a coach and you come to my school, I can pull out the folders and I'll show you [a player's] transcript. I'll show you a copy of his core GPA sheet. Not only will I give you the transcript, I'll give you the core sheet breaking down the transcript, showing you any re-takes, summer school, what have you. I'll give you a copy of the current grades, so you'll know how they're currently doing in school. What classes they're taking. And then I'll also include a copy of their SATs.

I'll also give out ... a player profile, which has each kid's personal information that might be asked. ... All of their information, all their accolades, will be on their profile. So a coach will walk out of here with a packet for each. I use these to show coaches that when you walk out of my office, you don't have to go to the school counselor. You don't have to go another building. That gives us an extra 20 or 30 minutes to get to know each other, and develop a respect for each other.

I'm already projecting my next class right here. Here's Willie Griffith right here on top, for next year. Here's his photo, here's his core sheet, broken down. ... He's already qualified. So we have it set up so coaches don't have to go any further. Now ... I'm looking at my sophomore group. ... All of them, right here. I'm just looking at my top prospects right here. ... I'm already getting their transcripts printed out, so I can put them with their core sheets as we speak.

So it's an'academics first' type of attitude that I've taken and developed, to make people want to come here. Now, McClymonds High School is every college coach's first stop. They get off the plane [get on the cell phone to me] and it's, "Zo, I'm on my way. I'm headed to your school."

I also look at it like this, real straight up, that's these coaches' livelihoods. That's how they feed their families. For example, Al Simmons, the [defensive backs] coach at Arizona State. He coached at Cal and at Oregon State, then went with [Dennis] Erickson and the 49ers. Now he's at Arizona State. He taught me to appreciate what college coaches go through. It made me never walk out of another high school game mad more than 48 hours. Here I am, mad that we lost the game. When those guys lose, they don't lose the game. They can lose their livelihoods. They can lose how they feed their families. They can lose a lot. So it made me appreciate just being a coach. It's not just about the winning and the losing. That's why I've made February bigger than December. Now luckily, for me, I've been able to get the best of both worlds lately. I've been able to win some games and put kids into college.

So those players going into the D-I programs are bread and butter for those coaches - and at the same time they are a measure of your success - like graduation rates, winning football games, and signing guys with D-I programs.

My main thing is giving them the vision. The one thing with inner-city kids, I was watching this story that was talking about gangs and stuff. I remember years ago, it was an HBO special or something, and it was asking young men who were involved in gangs why they do what they do. Why do they continue to do what they do? And it's mostly in the inner-city areas that people continue to see the high violence rate and all that.

People lose hope. Once you lose hope, you can't see. You become blind. So this is one way of giving kids the hope factor. I can take a GPA that's bad. I can take a guy with a 2.0 and say, "Hey, if you do this and if you do that, in three years you could qualify for a scholarship." [They'll say,] "Can I coach? Really?" And I say yes. ... You can give hope.

It's the same kid. This kid didn't change. If you can give them the hope and the vision, that they can do it, they can see it. They check their sheets every year. And it's fun! Because they just stare at it. I'll say, "Make a copy of it and go put it on the wall." I give it to them in spring of their junior year. All of those junior players, I've already had meetings with the parents and the kid, projecting the June GPA. Then, we come into the fall. ... I get them ahead of the game.

When a player starts to get the academics and to perform better in classes, does he get better on the football field?

Yes, because the focus goes hand in hand. Some kids are blessed, like Derrick. Derrick has been on the honor roll for four years. He's involved in leadership. He has focus. But you take a Darius [Savage], now, he was struggling. You mix him up with Derrick. And now, that becomes both a physical and an academic challenge. The positive peer pressure becomes overwhelming. Now Darius has to match what the other guy is doing, not only on the football field, but he's got to match him in the classroom. So that attitude carries with them all day.

So now, they just worked out for the right reasons.  Not just because you're just a jock. No, because, "I'm a complete student athlete."

And for me, I had the first kid out of Oakland, Derrick Hill, who ever made the U.S. Army All-America team. He's the first kid ever. That's historical. That's why I was there. We're on NBC, down there having a great time, to make a major announcement, which I already knew - that he was going to Cal.

Do some of your graduates come back to visit occasionally?

Kyle came on his spring break and worked out with us all week. He, Patrick Henderson, and also Tyrone Henderson, who is a starter for Colorado, those three came back and worked out every day with the kids.

That helps the other team members?

Oh, it's tremendous. We had our first kid in the draft, Sir Henry Anderson out of Oregon State. He'll be the first kid, for me as a head coach, with the possibility of going into the NFL. And he came back and talked with the guys. It's one thing that was really important for Kyle, when Nnamdi [Asamougha] came over when he was with the pros and he worked out with me. Kyle was in high school. ... It motivated Kyle. Kyle saw Nnamdi get drafted. He just was excited because, he said, "I was there, I watched him, coach! I watched him work out!"

And Courtney Anderson from San Jose, he came back here and worked out, then he got drafted by the Raiders. It's ironic that he would go to the Raiders because my kids are able to see the concept of it, "I've seen them do it. I watched them do it. Why can't I do it?" Courtney and Darius [Savage] became best of friends. So you can give hope to these kids. And once you have hope, you can do anything.

It's interesting how an 'orange folder' can become a vision.

Yes, it is. The kids see that vision of success.

Thank you for speaking with us coach.

Thank you. There's one thing I do, when I do [interviews], is that I want people to see what we do. ... My main thing is that I want people to truly appreciate the work ethic and the commitment in what I have installed in the program, along with the help of the whole administrative team, the whole school, and the entire community. How we have a commitment, how to not just be dubbed as a school with good athletes.

We work, man. We work both on and off the football field. You've seen the samples of it. This is the academic stuff, but there's [more] if you ever come to one of our workouts. That's what I spoke last week at the Cal coaches' clinic. I spoke at the Georgia clinic too. They flew me out there. I was talking about the training that we do, hands-on high school. Getting the most out of not always having the greatest facilities and all that. But we get the same results, and in some cases even better.

And we do it right here. We get it done. My main thing is that I want people to appreciate the work that McClymonds High School puts into its athletes, as far as the student-athlete combination. ... The guys I've talked with you about, Derrick Hill and Kyle Reed, those are four-year McClymonds students, on the honor roll, passed their SATs, fully qualified. And I think they're going to be great kids. They're great individuals. You can see that.

I want people to understand and appreciate that you can come from an inner-city school. Any young man who is reading this, you can come from an inner-city area and have a vision. Keep your hope, have a vision, and you can make it. It can be done. You really can, and these guys are proof that it can be done.

I'm not perfect. I don't have all the physical wealth. But the emotional and the mental wealth, and the fact that I'm touching lives and helping other young men achieve their goals - that's what this is about.


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The number of football players coming from McClymonds to Cal has increased in the last few years. Kyle Reed and Derrick Hill come to mind immediately. Is there a reason why that's happening?

Yes. The main thing is, coach [Jeff] Tedford, when he took over the program, one of the first things he said he wanted to do was put an emphasis on'taking care of home', meaning the Bay Area -- and specifically the East Bay. In his first year, he signed David Gray. David was a red-shirt, so this will be his fifth year coming up.

I've just seen a difference in Cal's recruiting with the [present staff]. They split up the Bay Area, on top of their outside-the-area recruiting. [Running backs coach] Ron Gould, who was responsible for the Oakland kids, has done a good job of establishing relationships all over.

Coach Gould is a very engaging person.

Yes. ... He knows Virdell Larkins from Oakland Tech, and Marshawn Lynch from Oakland Tech. All those kids knew each other and they grew up playing ball against each other. It's important because those relationships help establish a Cal presence in Oakland. Those relationships expanded when you've got [guys like] Robert Jordan and Phillip Mbakogu and the others from Hayward. You can just see the heavy East Bay presence being emphasized in Cal's recruiting.

So we all feel comfortable knowing that Coach Tedford's effort to'take care of home' was the emphasis. So what we did, as coaches, was have dialogue, and explain our comfort level with the staff and their efforts to keep these local guys home. Because in the past we've never felt that was the genuine effort, or the conscious effort of the prior staffs. Not in a negative way, we just felt there was more emphasis put toward some of the Southern California athletes, or athletes out of the area. They were letting a lot of kids [from the East Bay] get away, going to the Northwest schools like Oregon, Oregon State, elsewhere.

So it really does matter who the coaching staff is at Cal, and the attention they pay to the area?

Yes, very much so. Kyle Reed's early commitment to Cal was strictly a comfort thing. He felt very comfortable with the current staff, and mainly Coach Tedford. If Coach Tedford wasn't there, I doubt Kyle would have committed to Cal.

The main thing is the patience that I knew [Coach Tedford] would have with [Reed], to help his continuing development, and I'm very confident in the way Coach Tedford and his staff are dealing with Kyle - they will find the appropriate time for him to explode on the scene.

So talented players who have succeeded at the D-1 level have been regularly coming out of Oakland over the years?

Yes. Just look at the lists - the All-East Bay lists, all the metro lists, and all the various local all-league lists. A lot of these players were local kids, D. J. Williams, Kevin Simon, Maurice Drew. They were really good football players who chose to go [elsewhere]. Cal was always in the mix with these kids, so it wasn't like Cal wasn't there - but [the players] just felt the need to leave. Now you have kids like Marshawn Lynch and Robert Jordan making statements by staying at home, and picking the local school. Now, a year behind them, you've got a Kyle Reed being hosted by those players, and that input puts the emphasis on him staying home. And you've got Kyle Reed now hosting a Derrick Hill, which makes him comfortable about staying home.

Because a lot of times, the athletes don't have anybody to talk to that can truly relate. Cal did have East Bay athletes, but not too many Oakland players mixed into that. So you've got a high influence of Oakland players that are right in the mix of that. And fortunately, for my program, come this fall, three of those kids at Cal will be McClymonds kids.

You have a business card that says, \"Academics first.\" Clearly, from a small high school, in order to graduate nine guys to go into D-I programs, you work hard on the academics.

Yes. It's a struggle sometimes. I'm not always the most-liked person or the most-liked coach. [Just as you came into my office] I was on the phone in a conversation with a parent, in reference to her son's grades. I try to work hand in hand with the parents, making sure they understand what their academic responsibility is. I'll let the athletic part speak for itself. I always tell my kids, you meet me halfway with the academic part, and I'll deal with the athletic part, with the recruiters and all that. You get your test scores, you have your core GPA, and I'll deal with the rest.

Of those nine kids, six of them were already academically qualified last spring. So that made it that much easier to sell those kids [to recruiters]. And as we speak, eight of the nine are qualified. It's something that [the players] buy into, but also it's tough, because in the spring you've got seniors [distracted by'senioritis']. And every year you go through this senior year when they're like, \"Oh, yeah, coach.\" And you get a lot of hot air.

Yes, the senior year is a special time for a lot of kids.

I went to Cal State Hayward. I wasn't on a football scholarship. I went through Upward Bound. In high school, I was here [at McClymonds]. So I knew how to apply to a school that has sports, and get accepted on my grades and my test scores. And I felt like I wanted to bring that to the table as a coach, because one of the biggest disappointments for college recruiters is when you recruit a kid, and you get excited about a kid, and then you pull out their grades and they can't qualify.

Is football an important motivation for these guys, to get their academics up?

Yes, you can use football. I remember Kyle Reed in his ninth grade year, when he was [in the vicinity of] a 2.0 GPA. I challenged him right after summer school and into the fall of his tenth grade, and I asked him, \"Do you really want to be a quarterback?\" He was here, with his mom and his dad sitting in front of him. And he was like, \"Yeah.\" And then I said, \"Because getting a C average contradicts your capacity for that position.\" \"The last thing you want people questioning is your intelligence. And the first thing they look at is that you're getting a C in a public school setting, they're going to question your academics, and they're going to question your intelligence.\" So from that point on, he felt that he was challenged. And then he was on the honor roll from the tenth grade until he graduated. So I used the aspects of football to motivate him. And we saw what happened, he developed and developed. He developed into a leader and an all-America prospect. But he also developed into an honor roll student, and that was my proudest part about him.

When guys like Kyle, or Derrick, or Josh [Tatum] go on to D-I programs, do you have a sense of pride in that?

Yes, definitely. It's great. ... I feel I've been blessed. God blessed me to be able to have a vision and to be able to help kids and use me as a vehicle to help save their lives ... and being genuine with it. There's no hidden agenda. My only agenda is to see these people and their families rejoice on that signing day.

I look forward to the signing day as much as I do to the season because a lot of times people get caught up in the wins and the losses. But my real win is that first Wednesday in February. I really look forward to it. It's a tradition that we've established here, to try to have five-plus kids [sign] every year. It's something that the kids look forward to, the families look forward to, and the media look forward to.

A lot of people underestimate us, how small [we are]. [What you see here] is the whole school. It has only 600 students, right here. So for us to be able to consistently do that year in and year out, I'm very proud of the accomplishments that we've made as a school and as a community.

West Oakland doesn't get the proper credit that it should, as a community. A lot of people have negative things to say about West Oakland. Our football program, luckily, is able to add something positive to the image of the community.

Is it fair to say that there's a parallel between football and the military, where a guy gets a lot of discipline, a lot of hard work, and a lot of strength and conditioning work? Many young men find the military to be good training for life. Does something like that happen in football too?

The military is a very good example. That's why a lot of people use parallels about going to war and such. Some of it gets taken out of context, but even me, I've got my military style outfit, my [own type of] fatigues. Because it's a mindset for football, especially because you feel like you're in a battle. And it takes a lot of discipline. The military is the same way.

You can turn your program into a military type of environment with discipline. That's why programs like De La Salle do really well. You'll go see a De La Salle football game and the first thing you think about is how disciplined their athletes are. They're not the biggest all the time, they're not the strongest, but they're so disciplined. And then you look at the coaching staff and it reminds you of, hey, that's how I want my staff to be.

I've had the pleasure of meeting the coaches there, exchanging conversation with them, and I've always looked to their program as the point of comparison. They were, to me, the mark, as a program. And they still are the mark. Once upon a time, we wouldn't have even had that conversation. Now, we are mentioned in the same breath as De La Salle, Long Beach Poly, Dorsey, and Crenshaw. There's a statewide respect that our program has earned, within a four- or five-year window.

And a lot of that has to do with the growth of Cal. They've done the same thing. I've patterned a lot of our stuff after their program. I remember one of my coaches teasing me, after going to the spring ball game and the summer camp they had at Cal. I came back with all these ideas. And he said, \"Who do you think we are? We're Cal now?\" [Laughs.] \"The year before, we were San Jose State and now we're Cal.\"

So I just have a high respect for the organization, and the way Coach Tedford and his staff has structured their program. As a high school, we try to be as close to that as we possibly can, as far as structure and the way they run their practices ... to a T.

I've watched you on the field coaching football games, and there have been times when you got really angry with a player. Are you working to get a player to pay attention to what he's supposed to be doing on the field? Is anger sometimes a part of your discipline?

Yes, I'm a detail person. I'm a details freak. Because I believe that we can win all the games. A lot of programs run various offenses or defenses and think they're a high school team. And they may win games but not all of those philosophies are going to help your kids win games and also help prepare them for the next level.

So a lot of time my kids worry and [will say], \"Man, coach is doing too much.\" Or, \"Coach acts like we're in college.\" And I'm like, well, you're one step from being in college. If you realistically want that to be one of your goals, let's start right now. You're at'McClymonds University'. Let's start now.

[Allow me to be] stern and tough on you. When you leave my program, the consensus of every kid that I now have playing D-1 football is that they come back and say it all the time. \"Coach, I was never more in shape than I was when I was in high school.\" Or, \"I never did more running than I did when I was in high school.\"

As far as the verbal discipline, they can laugh -- not laugh it off -- but now they can say, \"There's nothing that [my new] coach can do to break me because I just left one of the most militant, in-your-face type coaches.\" So, it works for some kids.

But it doesn't work for everybody. One thing that I've learned, even this year, is that I've had different personalities. I have to kind of, pick and choose my spots. Who I can really get on, or who I'll have to pull to the side. Sometimes these young men take verbally challenging them as embarrassing, so I'm more mindful of that now. A couple of my [former] kids came to games this year and they said, \"Hey coach, you're going soft.\" [Laughs.] \"Are you going to let that slide?\" ... Well, this is a different group of kids. So every year, you adjust.

Kyle is a good example. I used to always ask him, \"Are you a pain freak?\" Because you could get right, smack nose-to-nose with him, and he'd just grin and smile and take it in stride, and move on. And be apologetic about his mistake, and try to get better at [things]. That's not the case with everyone.

Derrick [Hill] is like that, too. Derrick goes eye-to-eye with me. He's bigger than me, so I can't use the physical intimidation. But I think Derrick will do very well at Cal, being coached by a coach like [defensive line coach Kenny] Delgado. He's a hands-on, high-energy type of coach. Derrick will respond to that.

That's another reason why my kids pick Cal. We were comfortable with the coaching styles. Kenny Delgado was a big factor with Kyle and then Derrick Hill in picking Cal, and Coach Tedford was a major factor with them too.

What was your path into coaching?

It was unusual because it was not something I thought I would do. I graduated from McClymonds, '86, and went to Cal State Hayward, like I said. I played football and I ran track there for three years.

Then I had a five-year stint in the music business. A lot of people don't know that story. But I was a dancer for [rapper] MC Hammer. I was on top of the world. I was with him when he was at his apex. I was the head choreographer. I choreographed [the video for] \"Can't Touch This\" and the movie, \"Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em.\"

I was the one responsible for the training, getting out there and running. Hammer would get up there, on TV, and brag about our regimen, as far as our running four miles a day, lifting weights, all the rehearsals in the studio, and all that stuff. I was the one that would set all that stuff up.

So I felt that once I came back off tour, after being in the music business, I looked at my resume -- I was telling [Cal wide receivers coach Dan] Ferrigno this last night -- when I went from school into entertainment, I thought, \"What am I going to put on my resume? Dancer?\" The answer was nothing. It wasn't like I was messing around [during that] time. I was busy and working hard. But what do I put on my resume?

So, I wanted to work with children. I wanted to either get into social work or [something like that]. My godmother had a group home. And I wanted to work for her group home. I learned that you could be paid a little bit more money if you have more experience, working with kids. So I came back to [McClymonds] in 1993 and volunteered my time as an academic mentor. The following year a head track coach position became available. They offered me the job in 1994.

My first year, we took dead last and I wasn't too happy about it. Everybody said, \"Ain't that the guy with Hammer?\" [I went through] all the jokes and different stuff. At the time, we still had videos that were showing on TV. So the kids would be like, \"Hey, I know you!\" It was a challenge for me just to deal with it, day to day.

But I came back. Because me, being from here, I'd say, \"Yeah, you see me on the Grammy's or the American Music Awards, or all that stuff, but I'm just like you. I'm from here.\"

I wanted to come back; I wanted to give back. So after we took last that first year, and after I was ridiculed by the public, I had to turn to myself. Just like I did with the entertainment thing, when we were at the apex of that. If I want to be a coach, I want to be at the apex of that. The following year, our track team won the [Oakland Athletic League] championship. And we won like six straight.

Two years into the track thing was my first year as a football coach, in 1995. I was a defensive coordinator for the JV team. Then they offered me a position on the varsity staff, and the junior varsity staff. So I was the head JV coach and the varsity defensive coordinator. I was young, so I was able to coach both. I did that for four years. It kind of wore on me. But what really disappointed me at the time was Skyline was putting five or six kids into Division 1 [colleges] every year. And I used to wonder, why aren't the other Oakland schools able to match what Skyline was doing, because athletically, we had just as much talent. The answer was we didn't have the grades.

With that understanding, and the dynamics of the clearinghouse and all those different things, it took me into 1996, when I had my first class of five that signed. Two of them signed with Fresno State, and I became good friends with Kelly Skipper, who was the running backs coach at Fresno State.

The Fresno State coaches gave me the form. \"If you want coaches to come to your school, here are the things you have to have.\" And it was all academics. \"You, as a coach, have to know how to break down transcripts, project GPAs, and so on.\" So I created my own bio log. All my juniors are already ready this year. And here's all the seniors (reaching out to pick up a stack of folders). Each kid has his own folder. If you're a coach and you come to my school, I can pull out the folders and I'll show you [a player's] transcript. I'll show you a copy of his core GPA sheet. Not only will I give you the transcript, I'll give you the core sheet breaking down the transcript, showing you any re-takes, summer school, what have you. I'll give you a copy of the current grades, so you'll know how they're currently doing in school. What classes they're taking. And then I'll also include a copy of their SATs.

I'll also give out ... a player profile, which has each kid's personal information that might be asked. ... All of their information, all their accolades, will be on their profile. So a coach will walk out of here with a packet for each. I use these to show coaches that when you walk out of my office, you don't have to go to the school counselor. You don't have to go another building. That gives us an extra 20 or 30 minutes to get to know each other, and develop a respect for each other.

I'm already projecting my next class right here. Here's Willie Griffith right here on top, for next year. Here's his photo, here's his core sheet, broken down. ... He's already qualified. So we have it set up so coaches don't have to go any further. Now ... I'm looking at my sophomore group. ... All of them, right here. I'm just looking at my top prospects right here. ... I'm already getting their transcripts printed out, so I can put them with their core sheets as we speak.

So it's an'academics first' type of attitude that I've taken and developed, to make people want to come here. Now, McClymonds High School is every college coach's first stop. They get off the plane [get on the cell phone to me] and it's, \"Zo, I'm on my way. I'm headed to your school.\"

I also look at it like this, real straight up, that's these coaches' livelihoods. That's how they feed their families. For example, Al Simmons, the [defensive backs] coach at Arizona State. He coached at Cal and at Oregon State, then went with [Dennis] Erickson and the 49ers. Now he's at Arizona State. He taught me to appreciate what college coaches go through. It made me never walk out of another high school game mad more than 48 hours. Here I am, mad that we lost the game. When those guys lose, they don't lose the game. They can lose their livelihoods. They can lose how they feed their families. They can lose a lot. So it made me appreciate just being a coach. It's not just about the winning and the losing. That's why I've made February bigger than December. Now luckily, for me, I've been able to get the best of both worlds lately. I've been able to win some games and put kids into college.

So those players going into the D-I programs are bread and butter for those coaches - and at the same time they are a measure of your success - like graduation rates, winning football games, and signing guys with D-I programs.

My main thing is giving them the vision. The one thing with inner-city kids, I was watching this story that was talking about gangs and stuff. I remember years ago, it was an HBO special or something, and it was asking young men who were involved in gangs why they do what they do. Why do they continue to do what they do? And it's mostly in the inner-city areas that people continue to see the high violence rate and all that.

People lose hope. Once you lose hope, you can't see. You become blind. So this is one way of giving kids the hope factor. I can take a GPA that's bad. I can take a guy with a 2.0 and say, \"Hey, if you do this and if you do that, in three years you could qualify for a scholarship.\" [They'll say,] \"Can I coach? Really?\" And I say yes. ... You can give hope.

It's the same kid. This kid didn't change. If you can give them the hope and the vision, that they can do it, they can see it. They check their sheets every year. And it's fun! Because they just stare at it. I'll say, \"Make a copy of it and go put it on the wall.\" I give it to them in spring of their junior year. All of those junior players, I've already had meetings with the parents and the kid, projecting the June GPA. Then, we come into the fall. ... I get them ahead of the game.

When a player starts to get the academics and to perform better in classes, does he get better on the football field?

Yes, because the focus goes hand in hand. Some kids are blessed, like Derrick. Derrick has been on the honor roll for four years. He's involved in leadership. He has focus. But you take a Darius [Savage], now, he was struggling. You mix him up with Derrick. And now, that becomes both a physical and an academic challenge. The positive peer pressure becomes overwhelming. Now Darius has to match what the other guy is doing, not only on the football field, but he's got to match him in the classroom. So that attitude carries with them all day.

So now, they just worked out for the right reasons.  Not just because you're just a jock. No, because, \"I'm a complete student athlete.\"

And for me, I had the first kid out of Oakland, Derrick Hill, who ever made the U.S. Army All-America team. He's the first kid ever. That's historical. That's why I was there. We're on NBC, down there having a great time, to make a major announcement, which I already knew - that he was going to Cal.

Do some of your graduates come back to visit occasionally?

Kyle came on his spring break and worked out with us all week. He, Patrick Henderson, and also Tyrone Henderson, who is a starter for Colorado, those three came back and worked out every day with the kids.

That helps the other team members?

Oh, it's tremendous. We had our first kid in the draft, Sir Henry Anderson out of Oregon State. He'll be the first kid, for me as a head coach, with the possibility of going into the NFL. And he came back and talked with the guys. It's one thing that was really important for Kyle, when Nnamdi [Asamougha] came over when he was with the pros and he worked out with me. Kyle was in high school. ... It motivated Kyle. Kyle saw Nnamdi get drafted. He just was excited because, he said, \"I was there, I watched him, coach! I watched him work out!\"

And Courtney Anderson from San Jose, he came back here and worked out, then he got drafted by the Raiders. It's ironic that he would go to the Raiders because my kids are able to see the concept of it, \"I've seen them do it. I watched them do it. Why can't I do it?\" Courtney and Darius [Savage] became best of friends. So you can give hope to these kids. And once you have hope, you can do anything.

It's interesting how an 'orange folder' can become a vision.

Yes, it is. The kids see that vision of success.

Thank you for speaking with us coach.

Thank you. There's one thing I do, when I do [interviews], is that I want people to see what we do. ... My main thing is that I want people to truly appreciate the work ethic and the commitment in what I have installed in the program, along with the help of the whole administrative team, the whole school, and the entire community. How we have a commitment, how to not just be dubbed as a school with good athletes.

We work, man. We work both on and off the football field. You've seen the samples of it. This is the academic stuff, but there's [more] if you ever come to one of our workouts. That's what I spoke last week at the Cal coaches' clinic. I spoke at the Georgia clinic too. They flew me out there. I was talking about the training that we do, hands-on high school. Getting the most out of not always having the greatest facilities and all that. But we get the same results, and in some cases even better.

And we do it right here. We get it done. My main thing is that I want people to appreciate the work that McClymonds High School puts into its athletes, as far as the student-athlete combination. ... The guys I've talked with you about, Derrick Hill and Kyle Reed, those are four-year McClymonds students, on the honor roll, passed their SATs, fully qualified. And I think they're going to be great kids. They're great individuals. You can see that.

I want people to understand and appreciate that you can come from an inner-city school. Any young man who is reading this, you can come from an inner-city area and have a vision. Keep your hope, have a vision, and you can make it. It can be done. You really can, and these guys are proof that it can be done.

I'm not perfect. I don't have all the physical wealth. But the emotional and the mental wealth, and the fact that I'm touching lives and helping other young men achieve their goals - that's what this is about.


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