A-Train works to get Northside Christian on track
ST. PETERSBURG Dave Moore read a terse email from a former Tampa Bay Buccaneer teammate last week and just smiled. "All it said was, 'When can we trade film?' He didn't say hello or ask how I was doing, but I understood,'' Moore said of a message that was straight to the point and up the gut. Mike Alstott doesn't have much time for friendly banter these days, even when exchanging emails with his Buc roommate for eight seasons. As the new head football coach at Northside Christian in St. Petersburg, the 38-year-old "A-Train'' finds himself riding a different track, teaching life lessons to 32 players as the Mustangs prepare for Friday night's opening game against Moore's Shorecrest Prep Chargers."I'm like an architect, building that blueprint,'' Alstott said from his cramped office as a steady rain wiped out practice for the second consecutive afternoon. "The support here has been phenomenal, but there's so much to do – from jerseys to footballs. I'm trying to wrap my hands around all this administrative stuff.'' For 12 NFL seasons, those large hands were wrapped around a football. Alstott still holds the franchise record with 71 touchdowns, earning six consecutive Pro Bowl berths at fullback and establishing himself as arguably the most popular player in Buc history. In his sixth year at Northside Christian, athletic director Raul Hernandez received 60 resumes last spring when the football job opened. After he interviewed three candidates, the choice became clear. "I think Mike was nervous and I was nervous during our meeting,'' Hernandez said. "My first question was 'What brings you here?' It's been great since Mike came aboard. He's a problem solver and a team player, with his feet on the ground. It didn't take long before Mike looked around and realized he wasn't at One Buc Place anymore.'' A few days into Buc training camp, Alstott and his Mustangs came by to see how the pros practice. That's when Alstott's players truly realized the company they were keeping. At the end of practice, Alstott's group lined up for autographs from Buc players. Alstott stood at the end of the pack, a football cap low across his forehead. "When Mike got to the head of the line, all these young Buc players did a double-take,'' Hernandez said. "Then they rushed inside the building to find a hat or anything else that Mike could sign.'' He may not lift weights or churn up the grass at Buc headquarters every day, but Alstott still deals with a hectic schedule. "He's very busy and very happy,'' said Nicole Alstott, stopping by her husband's office to tell him she's making pork chops for dinner. "I married a football player and this is very different. The twinkle in Mike's eye is back.'' Griffin Alstott, 13, is playing youth football for the Seminole Chiefs. He is expected to attend Northside Christian next year and play for his father. Chase Johnson, a junior wide receiver and defensive back for the Mustangs, will be there to offer Griffin some advice. "Coach Alstott is intense and he's big on the basics,'' Johnson said. "He tells us to respect your parents and respect yourself, too. He says it's a gift to play this game, so don't take it for granted.'' Johnson was attending church services in April when he was told his new coach was the old No. 40 on the Buccaneers. When senior guard/defensive end Nate Diaz met Alstott for the first time, he was admittedly star-struck. "I thought it was real cool,'' Diaz said. "I almost asked him for his autograph.'' Alstott makes every effort to get home on time for dinner and spend some time with his family before crashing at 10:30 p.m. "Then I get up at 5 and do it all over again,'' he said. "My challenge is to stimulate these football players to reach their full potential. We use the word 'commitment' a lot around here. Do you have both feet in, or only one? I've got a bunch of good kids who want to learn. They're accepting guidance and buying in, and that's how you improve as a team.'' Alstott won a championship with the 2002 Buccaneers and he is adopting coaching principles absorbed since he started bowling over prep linebackers in his hometown of Joliet, Ill. Earlier this summer, he took his entire team to a Brooksville retreat for a week of bonding. "I wanted to see how different personalities could come together,'' he said. "The only way to win is to be a team. We got a lot accomplished that week and it will help us down the road.'' The Mustangs struggled last season with a roster of 18 players, winning only one game. Hernandez said Alstott's arrival has generated more interest in a football program that has posted 14 victories in the past four years. "Mike Alstott took this job because he is indebted to the game of football and he wants to be close to Griffin,'' Hernandez said. "Nobody should think he came here to be a figurehead.'' Moore is looking forward to Friday night's matchup as he and Alstott compete as opposing coaches for the first time. "We've both done it on the highest level and now it's about giving these kids opportunities to learn all the life lessons we learned by playing football,'' said Moore, who owns his own insurance agency and works Buc games as a radio analyst. Moore happened to attend Bucs practice on the same day Alstott brought his players out to training camp. After spotting his ex-teammate, Moore sprung into action. "I ran right over to the security guy and told him not to let any of Mike's kids leave the facility without writing down the heights and weights of every player,'' Moore said. "We've got a big game coming up.''
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