Thursday, July 19, 2018
Sports

For Mike Alstott, football and family bring new rewards

ST. PETERSBURG

In many households, the important conversations are saved for dinner time.

And so, on this particular night, 11-year-old Griffin sat at the table and was about to have the big talk with Mom and Dad. Truth be told, this wasn't even his idea. His little buddy down the street was the instigator, and you know how it is with kids and peer pressure.

"I want to play football," Griffin blurted out.

Griffin had never shown much interest in football. He was a baseball player. Griffin's dad remembers warning his son.

"I said, 'Do you really understand the commitment?,' " Dad said. "Baseball … you're playing three, four days a week. In football it's 90 percent practice, and at that age it's only an hour of game time. I said, 'Do you really want to do that?' "

Griffin said yes. He went to his first practice and, as he put it, "fell in love with the sport.''

At that moment, Griffin joined the family business. His dad, you see, is Bucs great Mike Alstott.

On Friday, four years after that talk over dinner, Griffin will quarterback St. Petersburg's Northside Christian School in the region playoffs. His dad and his coach could not be prouder. They happen to be the same guy: Mike Alstott.

"I remember when (Griffin) first went out for football and I was going to be that guy who sat in the lawn chair and just quietly enjoyed the games," Mike said. "That lasted two days.''

He grabbed a whistle and has been coaching Griffin ever since.

After taking over a program that had only 19 players and went 0-10 in his first season, 2012, Mike put his sophomore son at quarterback this season, and the Mustangs (8-2), with a roster of 40-plus, enter the playoffs on a six-game winning streak.

"I live vicariously through these guys," Mike said.

Sounds strange, doesn't it? A Super Bowl champion and six-time NFL Pro Bowl player finds more joy watching a bunch of kids than he did becoming one of Tampa Bay's favorite sons. To this day, eight years after Mike retired, you'll see as many No. 40 Alstott jerseys at Raymond James Stadium as any other current or former player's, which Mike, showing his arms as proof, said "still gives me goose bumps."

Griffin remembers running around the turf at RJS as a little boy, catching foam footballs from his dad after Bucs games, but he says he really doesn't remember much of his dad as a player.

The other kids on the Northside Christian team occasionally look up the A-Train on YouTube and are amazed to learn who their coach used to be. If they only knew how much Mike enjoys watching them.

"I lived my dream as an athlete, no question," he said. "But I'm living another dream, coaching my son and these other kids. Getting to know them, helping them through the ups and downs on and off the field has been an awesome experience.

"And having them have memories like I have had means so much to me. These guys will remember this team for the rest of their lives."

Mike compares it to what he experienced as a player, not only with friends such as Derrick Brooks and John Lynch on the Bucs but his time at Purdue and at Joliet Catholic Academy outside Chicago.

"I remember my teammates and what happened in high school as much as anything that happened with the Bucs," Mike said. "That's why I love being here, with this team, with my son."

He has had chances to be an NFL assistant coach, but he never seriously considered them. He loves having a normal life. He has a Tampa Bay area charity that helps families in need. He loves that he drives his daughters, 12-year-old Hannah and 11-year-old Lexie, to school every day and sees them in the halls at Northside. He loves that he spends so much quality time with Griffin.

"It has been awesome having my dad coach," said the 6-foot, 170-pound Griffin. "When I first started playing, I felt more comfortable with him. I love having him around. Now we have practice. And then we'll go home and watch film. I love it."

It's not an easy thing, coaching your child. It's easy to be too hard or too soft. So far, Mike seems to have struck the right balance. You can bet that if Mike wasn't treating Griffin right, Mike would have to answer to Griffin's mom.

"Mike is a wonderful coach and a great father," Nicole Alstott said. "He is just so patient with the kids.

"Even though he played at the highest level, he knows that these are still kids. And we believe that when you shout, people don't hear you."

Mike admits he can be demanding, and yeah, he even admits that he is tougher on Griffin than the other players, partly because Griffin is the quarterback.

"He told me all along that 'I'm going to be hard on you, but it's only because I love you and I want the best for you,' " Griffin said.

Mike played 11 seasons in the NFL and suffered concussions and serious neck injuries. Yet he has never thought twice about letting Griffin play football.

"I don't regret anything with me, and I don't regret him playing," Mike said. "I think football is the ultimate life-lesson sport. You're working in a group atmosphere to achieve success. There are times when I think, 'Oh, that was a good hit. Is (Griffin) okay?' But now he's bigger and stronger, and he is learning the game."

Nicole has never been worried about her son getting hurt. She likes that her husband is the one teaching the proper techniques of football.

Her concern is that the other team might pick on her son because of his last name. She reminds Griffin that he isn't supposed to be the next Mike. "You are not your dad," she tells him. "You are you.''

Other than that, she says, the Alstotts are having the time of their lives, finding it even more exciting than winning the Super Bowl.

Friday night she will be in the stands watching her husband coach and her son play, all because of a conversation over dinner.

And that little kid down the street who talked Griffin into football? His name is Dillan Davis, and he'll be playing for Northside on Friday night, too.

He's a fullback. Just like Mike Alstott.

     
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