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At first, players like Kyle Reed thought the focus on academics was annoying. Reed, a quarterback who graduated from McClymonds in 2005, has the physique one associates with football but an unexpectedly quiet demeanor. Before Reed started training with Carter, he recalls, he never took his education seriously and didn't think about going to college. "Coach Carter sat me down and said I had to choose either to go down the road where I'd be looking for a job and someone to employ me, or I'd take another road where I took my education seriously and tried to pursue bigger things," he said. Reed ended up on the honor roll in his junior and senior years, earned the elite All-American player status, and signed a scholarship to play at UC Berkeley — although he later transferred to San Jose State, where he started as quarterback last season.
Reed said Carter guided him through the process, making sure his grades were up and he was physically prepared for college recruiting and play. "It was really a key stepping stone into my future," Reed said. "I appreciate him for that, and he is one of the reasons of why I am who I am today." Now a sociology major, Reed also wants to work with kids in Oakland. "It's time for my generation to step up to the plate and try to make a difference," Reed said. "People who aren't as fortunate to have a Coach Carter in their lives. If there was more opportunity and more people magnifying the importance of education, we'd have less problems in the streets."
Carter also helps train his players for the NFL. This is how he met Nnamdi Asomugha, who he calls the "shut-down man." Asomugha was the roommate of one of Carter's former track runners while studying at UC Berkeley and is now a cornerback for the Oakland Raiders, the highest-paid defensive back in NFL history. "So many kids respond to him because he has a father-figure presence," Asomugha said. "He gets guys ready for the next level and is passionate about doing it. He doesn't do it for any notoriety. He helped me out of college get into the NFL and he did it out of the kindness of his own heart."
In the inner city, Carter believes that a lot of the young men have "tunnel vision" or "blinders," making it difficult for them to see their lives past high school. "It's my responsibility to take off the blinders and get them to see as big as they can," he said. If they follow his rules, go to practice, and study hard, he makes the recruiting process simple for them. "I send the coaches films, transcripts, and test scores," he said. "I'm using the power of my entertainment background. With visuals and videos you sell something. Well, my sell is academics."
When Ho Frat Ho arrived at the parking lot of the Anaheim concert arena at 10 a.m. one day in 1988, the dancers got ready for their first big performance with MC Hammer. Throughout the day as they practiced their routine in the parking lot — coordinating steps, working to move in perfect unison — the desolate lot began to fill with people coming to watch the show. Hammer had promised that they could dance the last two verses of "Let's Get It Started," but even he didn't know what their routine was going to be. Carter had bought black-and-white striped referee shirts, baggy black pants, and whistles from the Hayward campus store; he knew this was their one big chance to show MC Hammer and all of his fans who they were.
On their cue, the line Now, a lot of B-boys make 'em dance, Ho Frat Ho rushed onstage. "We came out blowin' whistles, stepping, we had on white gloves" Carter said. "We would do stuff hard, then on the hooks we would mix stuff that was catchy." Their style was energetic, heavy on the jumping and stomping, with exaggerated hand movements coordinated to a T. "We had a standing ovation from the crowd, and even Hammer paused and was like, 'What the hell?'" Carter recalled.
After the group served as extras during Carter's junior year of college, MC Hammer promoted them to dancers on his 1988 summer tour. By the end of that summer, Carter had dropped out of school to become MC Hammer's lead dancer and head choreographer. He danced in twelve music videos and was in the dance movie Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em: The Movie. As a group, Ho Frat Ho added to MC Hammer's dancing legacy by making everything as visual as possible, with the white gloves and exaggerated dance steps. Their most famous MC Hammer video was for "U Can't Touch This" — it marked the debut of the heel-to-toe sliding "Hammer Dance" (officially known as the "Chinese Typewriter").
This style of dancing required extreme conditioning and practice. Carter worked hard with his crew, acting as a fitness coach. But Ho Frat Ho wasn't ready for the strain of its first tour. "We practically almost died because of the stress of having to go out onstage and dance again every night," said Steve Reamer, formerly known as X Ho. When the tour ended, he recalled, "We said we really are going to have to take our cardio to a whole 'nother level." Which they did: They would wake up every morning at four o'clock, run six miles, and weight train. They practiced in the studio all day and performed at night.
Still, even with enhanced fitness, being stage dancers was a really tough gig. "Onstage, lights are 120 to 135 degrees, making the stage 85 to 90 degrees," Reamer said. "Fog machines prevent the intake of oxygen, and then you have the smoke machines." Performing their routine nearly 300 times a year took its toll on Ho Frat Ho. "Dancing at a perfect rate night after night and being onstage was difficult," Reamer said.
Nevertheless, Carter was determined to have the best dance group in the industry. "This all came out of Alonzo pushing us," Reamer said. "This guy's work ethic was unbelievable. ... We never lost any battles, we never lost any freestyles." Their success was all the more remarkable because Hammer's pop contemporaries — Madonna, Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul — all used traditionally trained professional dancers. Yet MC Hammer was getting nominated for the same choreography awards. "We were guys coming from West Oakland and literally showing them up," Reamer said.
The group toured around the world and performed at the Grammys, at the American Music Awards, and on talk shows like Arsenio Hall and Oprah. The 1991 Grammys were the last show they performed with MC Hammer. That year, the members of Ho Frat Ho decided to become their own rap group. They signed a deal with Hammer's record label, but after they recorded a couple of singles, their contract wasn't renewed. In 1992, Carter decided it was time to go home.
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