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Pirate
Time
Machine
No. 24

With Ron Cherubini
©2001-2003 Bonesville.net


Dave Alexander

Star fullback was big cog in Single Wing

All-America Dave Alexander created real
success on the field and in life after football

By Ron Cherubini
©2003 Bonesville.net

Dave Alexander has always bet on himself.

From a young age, he sensed it before he could even quantify it. How could a man count on others to be excellent if he didn’t first insist on excellence in himself?

As he grew older, Alexander started to get a harness around this idea and he focused himself to be excellent unto himself first, so that those around could follow. He bet on himself at East Carolina — and with the help of a pair of men who themselves had refined that same sense of self-determination — Alexander took his experiences in Greenville and parlayed them into an entrepreneurial spirit that has made him a business leader in our nation’s capital.

Alexander's senior season photo (Submitted)

As a Pirate player, Alexander knew only success on the football field. He was a dominating fullback in the Single Wing for legendary Coach Clarence Stasavich's vaunted 1963-65 Pirates. Those Pirates lost just three games during that stretch while piling up 27 wins and a trio of bowl victories.

Today, as a businessman, Alexander is the founder and Chairman of Washington, DC-based Potomac Services, Inc., a multi-million dollar company that keeps some of the most famous landmark office buildings in the Capital clean.

He is quick to credit his time as a Pirate and lessons learned from his coaches for his corporate credo and the way he lives and does business.

“Everybody is born with a personality and I was born to be an entrepreneur,” Alexander said. “Excellence, planning, teaching, winning, tenacity, honesty, it all came from East Carolina. I had some good coaches in grade school and prep school and all of them played a part, but the real serious work was done at East Carolina. The stuff I took from my time there, I used and still do today.”

Today, some 1,200 employees depend on Alexander’s company to help them fulfill their own life dreams and Alexander takes that to heart. But, he also has high expectations for those people he depends on to do the job at the level expected.

“We gathered top management (employees) that feel the same way I do about honesty, integrity, and morality,” he said. “I always tell everyone that there is no measure for honesty or integrity — you are either 100 percent or you are not, no matter what. As a company, we always do the right thing, whatever that is, whether it be personnel or client decisions, tax decisions, whatever, we do the right thing.”

Doing the right thing was always one of Stasavich’s mantras and that message was never lost on Alexander, who considered Stas to be much more than a stellar coach — he saw him as a man who exemplified the best of people from a moral perspective. Had Alexander not believed inherently in himself, he might have never made that connection that would help bring out the very best in himself on and off the field.

“My high school coach knew Coach (Jack) Boone,” Alexander said. “My coach wrote Coach Boone a wonderful letter about me and Coach Boone wrote back and told him that he was leaving and that Coach Stas was taking over. He said that Coach Stas wanted me to come there and had offered me a partial scholarship.

“But I had never heard of East Carolina. The only other school (recruiting him) was George Washington and I expected that was where I would go. But, I didn’t get in to George Washington.”

One of the reasons that Stasavich was interested in the young Alexander was because he was a standout in the Single Wing and he was a little older than the average rising freshman. Maturity and experience were attractive to the new Pirate coach who was planning to unleash his version of the vintage Single Wing back on college football.

“I went to Woodward Prep for a year, so I was a little older,” Alexander said. “I was a tailback in the Single Wing and I also punted, kicked off and kicked extra points. I think Stas was the only coach running the Single Wing at the time.”

Being from Washington, DC, Alexander was a city kid through-and-through, and the thought of going to a rural town was unnerving, but his desire to play football in college and his belief that he was a very good player, prompted him to follow up on the contact his prep coach initially made with East Carolina.

“I tried to call Coach Stas and found that he had gone fishing… forever,” Alexander joked. “When I finally got a hold of him, he told me that he gave my scholarship to a lineman that they needed, but that I could come down and try out.”

That was good enough for Alexander and he committed knowing full well that he would be just one of a cattle-call of football hopefuls in the little, rural town of Greenville.


ECC's freshman team of 1962-63 (Submitted photo)

“Going from D.C. to Greenville was an unbelievable experience,” he recalled. “I went down with my mom and grandmother and we were all like, ‘Who are these people?’ It was certainly a sleepy country town and everyone knew everyone else. They dropped me off and left me there alone. All of the sudden, I was adopted by my teammates and I thank God for that.”

From that point, Alexander says that he became driven by the notion that he was always “afraid to disappoint my teammates.”

Though driven by his need to support his new teammates, it was not lost on Alexander that he had to emerge from the pack of players trying to make the team — and for that, he relied on his own personal drive to succeed.

“I went down to Greenville and we practiced a couple of days,” he recalled. “First, they would test you to see if you could run, throw, and catch. But it was when I hit the sled, they gave me a scholarship. Coach VanSant pulled me to the side and said, ‘We’ll find you some money, son.’ Then they gave me meal books, school books and some laundry money. I knew I was in when they moved me from Jones Dorm to Scott.”

After one quarter at school, Alexander had earned a full scholarship and was on his way to becoming, perhaps, one of the best-ever fullbacks in Pirates history. His association with victory started right out of the gate, as a freshman.

“When I played, we had only three freshman games,” Alexander said. “We lost to Fork Union, something like 15-14. But then we played Apprentice School in Norfolk and walloped them pretty good and then we played and beat Chowan Junior College, which at the time was ranked among the top Junior College ranks. We beat them 7-6 and that was a huge upset at the time.”

Though freshmen couldn’t play on the varsity, both Stasavich and freshman coach VanSant worked the varsity and freshmen teams together, helping to prepare the standout freshmen for immediate action as sophomores.

“I was a wing back and a safety,” he said. “I was about 175 pounds my freshman season and by spring ball I was the fifth-string fullback and linebacker. In the summer, you would get several letters from Coach Stas and one of those letters said that I was going to start at outside linebacker (as a sophomore). It didn’t matter to me what position I was going to play, just that I was going to play.

“It made sense for it to be on defense. Defense is very instinctive and you don’t have to learn much so it’s easier for a young guy to learn and play. As you got older, you began to play both ways, and later I played both fullback and cornerback.”

Alexander also excelled on special teams for the Pirates. He played outside linebacker for the 9-1 Pirates his sophomore year and enjoyed the glory of 27-6 Eastern Bowl (Allentown, PA) championship over Northeastern. By spring ball that year, Alexander saw a glimpse of what was to come.

“They moved me to fullback and told me that three of us were competing for the position,” he said. “I was at 190 pounds then, and that summer, I got a letter telling me that I was going to start at fullback. Again, I didn’t have any idea or aspirations or how much I was going to play. I just wanted to be part of the team and contributing and to be admired by my coaches and teammates.”

Alexander (31) turns up field against Lenoir-Rhyne
(Dig those old unis!) — (Submitted photo)

With few expectations, Alexander delivered, and delivered big, being the main cog in Stas’s resurgent Single Wing.

“You know, in the Single Wing, there is a quarterback, but he stands behind the right or left guard,” he said. “The tailback is directly behind the center and the fullback is set to one side or the other. There is a direct snap from the center and whoever got the ball would become the quarterback, sort of. You might hand off the ball directly, or reverse it, or pass the ball… we flipped the ball all around. It was a very tricky offense for undersized teams. You could equate it to the Wishbone offense without knowing where the play is coming from.

“I could throw the ball, but our tailback was a better passer. Our whole backfield was multi-talented and we ran behind an unbalanced line, so it was very hard to defend. Since we were about the only team running the Single Wing, each team would have to game-plan for us and it was a great advantage for us on offense.”

Accepting the Tangerine Bowl Trophy. From
L to R, Norman Swindell, Mitchell Cannon,
and Dave Alexander. (Submitted photo)

And Alexander took advantage of it, being the quick-hitting, pounding fullback who was used up the middle and off tackle. His junior year was stellar and the Pirates again posted a 9-1 record and won the Tangerine Bowl (14-13 over UMass). And his junior season was only a preview to his memorable senior campaign.

“My senior year, I was 202 pounds, which was as big as the guards were then,” he said. “It would be like a 230-pound fullback today. I was a slasher with good speed and quickness and I had the ability to break tackles… a never-say-die type of runner. My job was to break the tackle and get the two yards we needed. But, I also could do other things with the ball. I’d catch the ball, run right or left and break free, and all of the sudden it was a Wishbone play down the field. We’d be up the field optioning the defensive back.

“For me, it was a matter of me being a pretty good athlete who got the opportunity to play in a system that fit me perfectly. I was not a big-time bruiser nor a speed demon, but I was tailor-made for that offense.”

Trophy and newspaper from day after EC beat
Maine 31-0 in Tangerine Bowl. (Submitted)

Alexander was hugely productive in that offense and during his senior season, the team again went 9-1 and then beat Maine 31-0 in the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, FL. That year, he contributed 1,029 yards rushing (10th best in ECU history) and 16 touchdowns (2nd all time for a senior to Carlester Crumpler’s 17).

In total, in his two years as a running back, Alexander amassed 1,898 yards and 25 touchdowns in an offense designed to spread the work across four players. East Carolina fans were all aware of the exploits of No. 31 and there were others watching.

After his senior season, Alexander was named to the Associated Press Small College All-America team and more notably he was also named to the AP All-America team as an Honorable Mention, a rarity in those days when small schools were statistically segregated from the big schools. He was also fielding calls from teams in both the National Football League and the American Football League.

“Mostly, it was Oakland calling,” Alexander said. “Oakland called and talked to me and I thought I would get drafted. I didn’t but they asked me to come out and I did and made the developmental squad. The Raiders then sent me to play with the Richmond Rebels in the Continental Football League.”

He was expected to thrive in the professional ranks, but it would not happen.

“Well, I blew out my knee on a kickoff return,” he said. “Tore three ligaments and that was it for my football career.”

It was perhaps after that abrupt end to his playing career that Alexander most-needed and most-appreciated his alma mater. He knew that he had left Greenville without the validation of a degree. He returned to get that degree.

“I went back to school,” he said. “I needed to do my practice teaching to fulfill my degree requirements and I did that in 1967.”

 A teacher by degree, Alexander knew that he absolutely wanted to be in control of his own financial and career future. He knew that people make things happen in business and that his teaching degree and the life lessons he learned as a Pirate football player would go a long way in helping him plan and implement whatever endeavor he might follow.

In short, he went for it.


Alexander at work. (Submitted photo)

“I started by going to work for a multi-graph corporation,” he said. “You know, I sold copiers for a year and a half and… yep… I hated it. Then I went to a company that does what we do now — cleaning office and luxury buildings. I worked there about three years and then, in 1972, I went on my own.”

That liberating moment was much like the one he had years before when he decided that their was no one better to pin his future on than himself. When he chose the unknown of little East Carolina and no scholarship, he was certain he would succeed. Again, with his future on the line, he bet on himself and won big.

“I wanted to do something on my own,” he recalled. “I wanted my own destiny in my hands and I was a leader (down deep inside) and I knew that — no question about it. I wasn’t an accountant or a lawyer or an engineer, so I went into the service industry. It was a logical choice. And, here we are today. This April will be 31 years. We’re about $17 million in annual sales and we have 1,200 people working for us.”

Brochure cover from Potomac
Services, Alexander's multi-
million dollar company.
[ www.potomacservices.com ]

And, Alexander will tell you it is the people. His appreciation for every person who has pinned their futures on his company and his demand that they invest themselves in the company has made his business a stellar success. His company maintains some of the country’s most-famous historical buildings and he speaks with great pride about the work his company has done as part of the Phoenix Project — the name given to the resurrecting of the damaged wing at the Pentagon.

You clearly get the sense when speaking with Alexander’s secretary that his employees have indeed bought into the guiding principles that he has infused in his company. They feel as if they are sitting in that penthouse office and that they have a clear stake in the company’s success, and it motivates in ways that a carrot on a stick will never do.

Alexander relishes in that and has, for the company’s 31 years, given back to his company and its people by being available, open, and a living example of what he asks of his people — a culture he had experienced a player for Stasavich.

It is this model of excellence that has kept Alexander tied to his alma mater.

“I am very connected these days,” he said with great enthusiasm. “If (the Pirates) are on television, I’m watching it. I wake up and check out the ECU website and then Bonesville to see what is happening.”

And he spends time with his family — his large family.

Dave, Ella and five of their seven
grand-children. (Submitted photo)

“Look, I have seven grandchildren and number eight on the way,” he stated proudly. “They are ages one month through 6-years old and they really keep (he and wife Ella) busy. I spend a lot of time with my family. We have a house in Stewart, FL, and my wife and I both play golf, so we keep busy.”

Alexander is high-energy both in work and play. Along with chipping away at his 11 handicap on the links, he also snow skis — making regular trips with his family out to Park City, UT — and he is an active, certified scuba diver. Additionally, while he is not running his company, he is on the Board of Directors for the Building Services Contractors Association International, a 2,500-member industry organization.

And, there is his keen love for football.

Of course, he admits there is some division in his family over which team deserves the most adoration. For Alexander, the Pirates are always number one. But with a son-in-law who is the head coach at Rutgers University, sometimes the internal debate can get a little touchy.

“My son-in-law, Greg Schiano, is always calling us a second-tier school and that gets the hair on my neck standing up,” Alexander laughed. “I mean I got upset when he said that. Yes… we have a chip on our shoulder and we try harder.”

For love of family, Alexander — tongue-in-cheek — tolerates it, but it does tread dangerously close to the heartstrings.

“That Miami game… the flood game… that put a big grin on my face,” he said. “Those kids… that gutsy performance… my blood runs purple. When I think of (his playing days)… I left a lot of my blood on that field. A lot of pain and suffering and a lot of great times and big thrills. I am very proud (of that history).”

And over the years, while at East Carolina and while accomplishing subsequent successes as a corporate pioneer, Alexander thinks he may have nailed down a secret about gaining a firm grasp on sustainable success.

“We all have our ups and downs, all of us,” he said. “But I’ve found that keeping a positive attitude is essential in life. Having faith and being positive are things that are free. They are free for each of us to have and control. It’s taken me 60 years to learn that and when times are tough, you’ve just got to keep saying that over and over again. It will get you through those tight situations.”

Throughout his life, old number 31 has treated life like a fourth-and-one, and as he did consistently as a player, he keeps on moving the chains.

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VIEW THE PTM ARCHIVES

Terry Gallaher
No. 81, SE 1974-78

Dave Alexander
Daniel Boone
Ken Burnette
Luke Fisher
Terry Gallaher
Greg Gardill
Leander Green
Chad Grier
Jim Gudger
Daren Hart
Shane Hubble
Sean McConnell

Mike Myrick
Norman Quick
Jody Schulz
Vinson Smith
Ken Strayhorn
Don Tyson
Zack Valentine
Tabari Wallace
Pat Watkins
George Wheeler
Pete Zophy
Kevin Walker

DAVE ALEXANDER BIO BOX
Name:

Dave Alexander
 

Age:

60
.

Sport:

Football
.

Years at ECU:

1962-66
.

Position/Jersey No.

Fullback / No. 31
.

Hometown:

Washington, DC
.

Currently Resides:

Bethesda, MD
.

Occupation:

Founder & Chairman, Potomac Services
 

Degree(s):
  • BS Physical Education
    .

Marital Status:

Married - Ella
 

Children:
  • Christy Schiano, 34

  • Bartley Dutton, 29

  • Leigh, 32

  • Matthew, 27

  • Sara Mitchell, 22

  • Tommie, 21

Quotable: 

“I am absolutely humbled to be chosen to be part of this collection… the Pirate Time Machine. There are many, many other players that belong in this collection before me.”
.

TEN QUESTIONS

1. Who is your favorite current Pirate and why?

“I really liked Leonard Henry. He was a great football player. I’m was a running back and I thought he was a very talented runner. And, I really like Kelly Hardy. He was a very talented guy who was always around the ball, making big plays. They were both very valuable football players.”
.
.

2. What do you miss most about ECU?

“I miss my friends and teammates. When I was there, we were very, very successful. I think during the season, we were 24-3 during regular season games. And we won three bowl games. At one point in time we had a 17-game wining streak between my sophomore and junior years. I remember we lost to Richmond, won 17 games and then lost again to Richmond. We lost one more time at Furman and then never lost again the rest of the way. When you have success, you form incredible bonds of support with your teammates and coaches — the ties run deep with that kind of success.”
.

3. Where is your favorite spot on the ECU campus?

“When I first got there, we had the Rathskeller. Then, some friends of mine from D.C. came down and opened a place, they called it the Coach and Four. We had many, many late nights there.”
 

4. What was your dorm room and favorite dorm story?

“I know it was Scott Dorm and I think it was room 204, but don’t quote me on it. Mitchell Cannon (DL), Jerry Collie (DB) are the two suitemates that come to mind. Sammy Viveret always grew watermelons in the quadrant. It seemed like every summer when we came back we had water balloon fights down there. It was always just mayhem down there. Here’s a story… One time during the off-season, the whole team was called down to a meeting early on a Saturday morning. It was a typical football meeting, the same old same old about the off-season program and usual pep talk stuff. After they released us, we found out that the coaching staff had been through every room and took every sweatsuit, jock, sock, T-shirt. That is how tight they were then. We would try to keep all that stuff.”
.

5. Greatest Moment as a Pirate football player?

“Two that jump out at me. First, when I was a junior, we were playing a school from Birmingham, Alabama. The school was called Howard, which is now called Samford, and Bobby Bowden was the coach there then. They were very well-coached and very tough kids. In the fourth quarter, we were winning by maybe five or six points or something. We had stopped them on our own 7-yard line. We ran a play, ran another play and had it on a third down. So, Stas called a timeout and our quarterback goes over to the sideline. He comes back in and says, ‘Coach Stas says to take the ball, run into endzone take a knee, punt, and the defense will hold them.’ We were like, ‘Hell with that, we are going for it.’ So, our quarterback called for the fullback off right tackle. I got the ball with a huge whole to run through and two defensive players on the left and right both hit me at the same time and they both bounced off me like a pinball machine. Amazing. Some things just happen. I went 93 yards for a touchdown, being chased by Dickie Mills and Dave Bumgardener, and they were both saying, ‘Hurry up, give me the ball!’ Of course, since I scored, I didn’t hear a word from Stas.

“Another time, at the final game in the Tangerine Bowl, it was a remarkable experience. I had a great game with 170 yards and a couple of touchdowns. I also threw a touchdown. On the last play of the game, from about the 50-yard line, they called (me) off-tackle and I took it 51 yards for a touchdown. We won 31-0 and I always thought it was kind of destiny with my number being 31. We won the game over Maine and it was a great game. The one thing about football is that you learn real fast that it’s a team sport. You can’t do anything without your 21 teammates. In the heat of the battle, when you are on the field, it’s you and all of your teammates who have to perform. It is a remarkable event when you score a long touchdown.”
.

6. Most disliked opponent?

“Richmond… they beat us 2-of-3 years when I was there.”
.

7. Athletic Influences?

Coach Stas and Coach VanSant.
.
.

8. Favorite coach?

“Coach Stas was a tremendous man not only as a coach, but as a person. He made a difference in all of our lives. He was a very wise man and he carried himself well. He was a very positive guy. Stas demanded excellence on and off the field. He made us pay for not being excellent on and off the field. He was a disciplinarian on and off the field. More than that, he was a morally tremendous guy. A great example for young men to follow. Leader at school, community and at church. Well-rounded. Very good speaker and motivator.

“Coach VanSant was very similar. He was more excitable than Coach Stas, but he demanded the same rigorous excellence. He was more friendly because he was the freshman coach and assistant. Another great example of a man.”
.
.

9. Best Locker Room Story

“After the game, the Tangerine Bowl, we threw all of the coaches, except Stas, into the pool at the hotel in Orlando. My junior year, we flew out to Monroe, LA. It was the first time that many of us had ever flown, me included. We get in this big old plane and we were all awe struck. Most of the guys hadn’t flown, all of our jaws were wide open.

“When we were sophomores, we lost one game. We were 7-1 and the last game was at Tampa. Coach Stas had a heart attack and Coach Welborne had taken over the team. We had a choice to fly or take a bus. But since we had won all the games and bussed to them, we took the bus. We go to Tampa and when we stepped off the bus, the first thing we hear was that (John F.) Kennedy was assassinated. And we all went up and watched the news — coaches and players together. We decided to play the game and beat Tampa by one point. On the way back, we deadheaded it all the way home for 18 hours. By the time we got three quarters of the way home, the bus was filled with newspapers. Five inches of papers on the bus. The players were all ornery from the ride. We had a senior linebacker that was really good. I was a linebacker as a sophomore, and this linebacker, Frankie Galloway, was a big, bad senior and we started arguing and it turned into a big paper fight and beat each other into submission and then got back into our seats and fell asleep. Finally, we got into Wilson and we took that right turn, I felt so good to be close to home. Of course, that was 1963 and that is how you traveled — by bus. In fact, we bussed all the way up to Allentown that year for the bowl game (vs. Northeastern) and won that game (27-6), too.”
.

10. Best Greenville nightspot in your day?

“The Coach and Four.”
.

 

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02/23/2007 02:10:32 PM

 

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