Alonzo Carter insists he didn't know what was coming when San Jose State head coach Brent Brennan smiled in Carter's direction at a recent Spartans spring practice.
But when the song came on, Carter knew exactly what to do.
"Next thing you know, it's 'U Can't Touch This,'" Carter said. "I was like, 'Aw, man. He put me on front street.'"
— SanJoseStateFootball (@SJSUSpartanFB) April 8, 2017
The video of Carter, the Spartans' first-year running backs coach, dancing to MC Hammer's classic 1990 song became a viral sensation -- and the team's players, none of whom had been born yet when the song became a pop-culture phenomenon, went wild.
If it looks as if Carter has pulled out these moves before, it's because he has. In fact, he helped create them. Before he became a football coach, Carter was a backup dancer and choreographer for MC Hammer.
"It just naturally came," Carter said. "It's a whole routine. We choreographed that routine over 25 years ago, and it's still strong. It's still prominent."
Football and dancing have long been a part of Carter's life, and it was by chance that he pursued dancing professionally. In the spring of 1989, when Carter was in between his junior and senior football seasons at Hayward State (now known as Cal State East Bay), he and some friends decided to respond to a call to audition to appear in a music video for Hammer's song "Let's Get It Started." At the time, Hammer had not yet broken through as a mainstream success, but he was well-known in the Oakland music scene.
"Hammer was the man, you know?" Carter said. "He was doing stuff way ahead of his time. You hadn't seen a guy who could rap and dance like that."
Carter and his friends were prepared for the audition. They had formed a dance group that combined hip-hop dancing with fraternity stepping and choreographed a dance they knew would impress Hammer. All it took was 30 seconds.
"So Hammer was all, 'Y'all want to be in the video?'" Carter said.
Of course they did.
Hammer then invited Carter and his friends to go on tour with him. At first, Carter thought it would just be for the summer and he would be back in time to play his final season of college football, but Hammer's popularity started to soar.
"We went on Arsenio Hall [his talk show] and did so well that we recorded and did his next video, and it blew up," Carter said. "So we became his permanent dancers. I had to make a choice. It was, do I go back to college or do I stay on tour with Hammer? And I chose to stay with him."
Carter spent the next three years touring the world as part of Hammer's entourage. They performed at the Grammys, the MTV Video Music Awards and the American Movie Awards as well as on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," and Carter crossed paths with some of the biggest names in pop culture at the time.
"Tupac was a roadie with Digital Underground at the time. He wasn't even a lead artist," Carter said, referring to the Oakland-based hip-hop artist. "Tupac used to come over to my house in Hayward [a city in the San Francisco Bay Area]. I used to have all these parties, and Tupac used to hang out at my house."
In hindsight, Carter says the seeds of his coaching career were planted during his time on the road, where it was his job to make sure all the dancers remained in good enough shape to regularly perform their taxing three-hour shows. But he eventually decided that dancing wasn't a viable long-term career option, and he returned to Oakland to figure out his next move.
The decision brought him back to his alma mater, McClymonds High School in Oakland, where he volunteered to coach track and football.
In the following two-plus decades, Carter became one of the most well-known high school football coaches in the East Bay. Most recently, he was the head coach at juco Contra Costa College. Carter estimates he has sent more than 100 former players on to the Division I level, and he has had a hand in the development of many current and former NFL players. Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters was a ball boy for Carter. Former first-round pick and Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha trained with Carter before the draft. Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch and Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen trained with Carter at Cal summer camps.
Takkarist McKinley, the Atlanta Falcons' first-round draft pick this year, is the most recent success story. McKinley signed with Cal while in high school, but after being told he was an academic nonqualifier, he went to play for Carter at Contra Costa. After one season, McKinley was off to UCLA, where he developed into one of the Pac-12's best pass-rushers. And when he was invited to the draft in Philadelphia, Carter was one of the people McKinley invited to come with him.
Brennan and Carter became acquainted during Brennan's time recruiting in the Bay Area.
"He was an up-and-coming coach and I kind of showed him the whole area, the whole East Bay," Carter said.
The two became fast friends and grew so close that when Carter got married, in a ceremony officiated by MC Hammer, Brennan was in attendance.
While Carter accomplished a lot in coaching, there was something that held him back. After leaving college to go on tour with Hammer, he never returned to finish his studies. Without a degree, he was not eligible for Division I assistant-coaching jobs.
Brennan knew Carter was interested in rising in the coaching ranks and encouraged him to go back and finish. In June, nearly three decades after he left, Carter graduated from Cal State East Bay.
"I was so proud of him," Brennan said. "Along with all the other responsibilities he had, it was amazing he was able to get it done."
The timing couldn't have been much better. Six months later, Brennan was named the head coach at San Jose State and added Carter to his staff. If Brennan had gotten a head-coaching job in another region of the country, he still would have pitched Carter on joining him, but in the Bay Area, where his connections run deep, Carter was even more valuable.
"Yeah, but it absolutely wouldn't have mattered where," Brennan said. "Everything about him is what these kids need. No one has done a better job than Zo. ... I've seen him be such a good man for young people. There are hundreds of kids' lives he has positively impacted. I wanted that in our program."
The dancing is just a bonus.