was big cog in Single Wing
All-America Dave Alexander
success on the field and in life after football
Alexander has always bet on himself.
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?
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.
season photo (Submitted)
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
as a businessman, Alexander is the founder and Chairman of Washington,
Potomac Services, Inc., a
multi-million dollar company that keeps some of the most famous landmark
office buildings in the Capital clean.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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
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.”
that point, Alexander says that he became driven by the notion that he
was always “afraid to disappoint my teammates.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
turns up field against Lenoir-Rhyne
(Dig those old unis!) — (Submitted photo)
expectations, Alexander delivered, and delivered big, being the main cog
in Stas’s resurgent Single Wing.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
expected to thrive in the professional ranks, but it would not happen.
blew out my knee on a kickoff return,” he said. “Tore three ligaments
and that was it for my football career.”
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
back to school,” he said. “I needed to do my practice teaching to
fulfill my degree requirements and I did that in 1967.”
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.
short, he went for it.
Alexander at work. (Submitted photo)
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
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
this model of excellence that has kept Alexander tied to his alma mater.
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.”
spends time with his family — his large family.
Dave, Ella and
five of their seven
grand-children. (Submitted photo)
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
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
there is his keen love for football.
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.
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
of family, Alexander — tongue-in-cheek — tolerates it, but it does tread
dangerously close to the heartstrings.
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).”
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.
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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