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View from the East
Thursday, March 28, 2002

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Alston's game and life on a special plane


Richard Alston’s future in the East Carolina football program appeared extremely doubtful in early November of 2000 after he allegedly tried to pass a counterfeit $100 bill at a Burger King in Greenville. The manner in which Pirates coach Steve Logan dealt with the situation may rate as one of his best jobs ever in terms of player development.

And Logan has groomed some gems.

Jeff Blake, Marcus Crandell, Dan Gonzalez and David Garrard to name a few. But their development was essentially in terms of coaching. Logan had to put a preacher’s hand of guidance on Alston.

Logan initially felt betrayed. He personally recruited Alston from Warren County High School and promised him a chance at quarterback when other major programs sought him as an athlete.

East Carolina receiver Richard Alston (1) confers with Pirate head coach Steve Logan during spring drills. The Warrenton senior will be an anchor of East Carolina's offense next fall and one of the team's leaders.
[Photo: Sara Whitford. Used courtesy of ©2002]

Logan was good to his word, using Alston to spell Garrard on occasion during the 1999 and 2000 seasons — until Alston’s arrest by Greenville police in the early morning hours of Nov. 3.

The situation developed, according to Alston, because he needed to make a car payment and the money he had to do so had been stolen. Alston said he met a man on campus and paid him $50 for four bogus $100 bills. He tried to pass one at the drive-through window of the fast food restaurant but employees were suspicious. They got his license plate and authorities later traced the vehicle to his apartment.

Police also found an empty bag of marijuana at the apartment, which Alston later said had been left there by a relative who had been visiting.

The situation didn’t look good. Players have been summarily dismissed from programs under lesser circumstances. But Logan knew that Alston had few positive influences in his life apart from the football program. Alston had been essentially raised by an assistant high school football coach back home. There was little in the way of a family net to catch Warren County’s fallen star.

With the help of athletic director Mike Hamrick, the short-term course of action was devised. Alston would not be allowed to play in games but he would continue practicing with the team. Jeff Foster provided legal representation.

Fortunately for Alston, the federal administrators who pursue counterfeiters are not interested in someone as far down the chain as those first offenders who pass the fake currency. They’re after those who actually print the fake bills.

Alston’s case never came to trial. But the experience has no doubt helped scare him straight. Logan told Alston if there was a problem with making a car payment he should have come and talked to the ECU coach about it.

“We could have talked to the car dealer about it,” Logan said. “Maybe something could have been worked out.”

But there was a larger issue in the coach’s craw.

“I told him, ‘You neglected your soul,’ ” Logan said.

The Pirates coach had taken Alston to meet Chuck Young, whose Christian ministry includes a support group that involves a number of ECU players. Young cooks dinner and provides bible study for players once a week as part of his Sportworks program.

But Alston hadn’t followed up. And lacking the framework of a supportive home life, Logan realized that Alston had needed to.

ECU fans don’t need to be told that Alston has recovered on the field. He moved to a receiver for the 2001 season and caught 31 passes for 443 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed 11 times for 124 yards with a score.

His ability is such that the Pirates place a high priority on getting the ball in his hands. But when Alston gets the ball these days, he’s running on much higher ground.

I heard that Alston had given his testimony at a banquet that Young organized earlier this year. Powerful stuff. Here’s a guy who knows he could be out on the street with few marketable skills right now or even worse, behind bars.

Offensive tackle Brian Rimpf also delivered his testimony.

Logan can take that special pride that teachers feel when they have successfully redirected a life and the exhilaration preachers must experience when a lost soul comes to the Lord.

In a sense, Alston’s turnaround is a bigger victory than any of Logan’s 65 career wins as coach of the Pirates. What does the Bible say about angels rejoicing when a sinner is saved?

There are probably other players who have benefited from Logan’s guidance that I don’t know about. But I had heard about Alston through the grapevine and I asked Logan what had happened to his quarterback turned receiver/delinquent turned Christian.

“My brother is a psychologist in Albuquerque, New Mexico,” Logan said. “He tells me all the time that he gets paid huge sums of money to help people solve their problems. But he also tells me this — short of a true spiritual experience people rarely, rarely ever change. I believe that, too.

“I’ve seen people have experiences that change them for a little bit but to make a profound change, a true change, it has to be something at the soul level. This is just what I believe. I don’t evangelize and preach, but at the same time Richard did indeed, in my estimation, make a spiritual decision in his life that has positively affected him in a way that nobody could have predicted.

“But we’ve all seen it and when it does happen it’s a wonderful thing. The bad situation that he went through — and he will readily tell you he created himself — has been a springboard for him to figure out how to live his life a better way.”

An “Amen” to that.

Rules makers can learn from high schools <<< Top of Page >>>

Here’s some more food for thought from the Pirates coach.

The NCAA recently announced that it would increase the penalty for invading the “halo” of a return man from five yards to 10 yards, a move designed for increased safety. I asked Coach Logan if there were any other rules changes he favored.

“I like what the high schools have on defensive encroachment,” he said.

The encroachment rule apparently has a lot of gray area for interpretation in college and pros. Defenders can cross the neutral zone without penalty if they’re back onside at the snap and their actions don’t physically threaten the offense.

“To me it would clean it up and make it simpler to enforce if we went to the high school rule,” Logan said.

Personal bests on NFL tests <<< Top of Page >>>

ECU seniors David Garrard and Leonard Henry each ran personal best times in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. Garrard ran a 4.72-second time and Henry opened some eyes with his 4.51-second clocking. That enhances Henry’s package of pass catching and power running just a little bit more. He had run a 4.55 earlier at ECU and in postseason conditioning workouts in New Orleans. The draft is coming up April 20-21.

Early risers <<< Top of Page >>>

Today is the final day of 6 a.m. conditioning workouts for ECU football players. The 56-minute sessions started after spring practice and provide a varied program of aerobic activities. An offseason program of weight training starts Monday. The new strength and conditioning center is supposed to open April 11.

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02/23/2007 12:58:52 AM

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