Mike Alstott awarded each of his campgoers with a certificate of achievement
All spring and into the early summer, Mike Alstott had coaches telling him what to do. With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers working hard to install new Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel's system, which plans to employ the Bucs' Pro Bowl fullback with dizzying variety, there was quite a bit for the fifth-year all-star to learn. Come June 23, when the Bucs open training camp, it will all start up again.
In between, Alstott is turning the tables.
At the just-concluded fourth annual Mike Alstott Football Camp, nearly 400 local kids with football dreams saw Alstott on the other end of that bargain, as a coach and mentor. In four years, Alstott's camp has burgeoned from roughly 120 attendees to over triple that amount, but it still offers the same things: lessons in football fundamentals and face time with one of Florida's most popular professional athletes.
Buccaneers.com visited the Mike Alstott Football Camp on Tuesday, as four non-stop, eight-hour days culminated in actual games between dozens of 'teams'. Playing in front of a legion of video cam-carrying parents, the kids showed off what they had learned in scrimmages that were uniformly energetic. Cheers over every good play, offensively or defensively, made it clear that these youngsters were eager to emulate the football success of their hero and camp coordinator.
It was just as enjoyable for the player-turned-coach. "It's fun. People are very interested. I think the kids get a lot out of it. As far as interacting with the kids, having them learn things and interact with other people...I think they really enjoy it and learn a lot."
Many of the parents on hand were sporting Buccaneer garb, likely fans expecting a big year from the home team. After a day of watching what their children were learning, many probably went home and turned their thoughts to the same question concerning Alstott. With Tampa Bay considered a Super Bowl favorite but operating under a completely different offensive attack, how well Alstott performs in 2000 could be a crucial issue.
Widely regarded as the top fullback in the National Football League, Alstott increased his rushing total for the fourth straight season in 1999, leading the Buccaneers with 949 yards. He caught 27 passes in '99, but is only a few years removed from a 65-catch season and is clearly a talented receiver out of the backfield. He also has 34 touchdowns in four seasons, and the Bucs are 24-4 when he reaches the end zone, a remarkably telling statistic.
Despite the addition of Pro Bowl WR Keyshawn Johnson, Buccaneer Head Coach Tony Dungy insists that the backfield tandem of Alstott and tailback Warrick Dunn will continue to be the engine that drives the Tampa Bay offense. The only question is just how Alstott will be used by Steckel, who favors a wide variety of formations and has been known to make full use of the H-back position, which could suit the 250-pound runner well.
By this point, Alstott probably has a good idea of what his role will be, though training camp will go a long way towards refining it. On Tuesday, however, he was focused on the kids in his camp and what they're picking up on the football field.
"Well, they're learning a lot," he said. "They're learning work ethic, they're learning the fundamentals of football. Our coaches are teaching them discipline and teamwork. With myself going around the camp, interacting with the kids, signing stuff, talking to them, they get a little bit of the experience of meeting a professional football player who can be a role model to them. It puts a smile on the kids' faces and really impacts their lives.
"The kids really enjoy it, they ask me questions and we sit there and talk."
Alstott would be pleased to learn that his camp is getting through to the kids on issues beyond blocking and tackling. "We're learning about football," said Andrew Levy, 9, a camp participant. "We're learning plays and also, 'Don't do drugs.' If you want to learn about football or you're ever going to play football, then don't do drugs."
By 3:30, Levy's team, the Bears, was undefeated in Tuesday's scrimmages and he was already sure he would be back for the fifth annual Mike Alstott Football Camp. It doesn't matter to him, however, if he's on the best team again next year.
"I just love playing football," he said. "It's probably my favorite sport."
That was a sentiment likely to be echoed by most of the parents on the sidelines, which is why the presence of Mike Alstott was a thrill even to them. They know on Sundays this fall, they will be at Raymond James Stadium or in front of the television, hoping Alstott finds a way to top his own performance once again.