On April 15, 2009, New York Giants’ offensive coordinator, Kevin Gilbride, was brought to Springfield College to speak at the 16th Annual Weckworth Lecture, Springfield College’s “premiere scholarly event in the field of Sport Management and Recreation.”
However, Gilbride’s journey to Springfield College was not an easy one. In fact, he was lost about two miles outside of the campus at a local Friendly’s on Sumner Avenue in the “Forest Park Heights” district of Springfield.
Meanwhile, in the days prior, former professor of Sport Management and Recreation Dr. Donald R. Snyder had heard of a student that had contacted Gilbride as well as the New York Giants, applying for an NFL Coaching Fellowship.
This student was a senior in the Movement and Sports Studies program, a student-coach for the Springfield College football team, intern with the Springfield College men’s volleyball team under head coach Charlie Sullivan, all the while driving 358 miles and just under six hours down to Westminster, Md. on the weekends to help with McDaniel College’s spring football practices.
Snyder, being aware of Alonso Escalante’s interest in meeting Gilbride and speaking with him about the coaching fellowship, called upon the senior to drive to Friendly’s and escort the tenured NFL coach to the Townhouse Conference Room, where the lecture was taking place.
Although Escalante would be late to the lecture due to a spring football practice for Springfield, Gilbride was just beginning his speech upon his return.
Following the lecture, Escalante and Gilbride were making their way to their respective cars when Gilbride asked Escalante of any places in the area to eat.
Escalante, having worked with the offensive line of Springfield College for the past three seasons, suggested the restaurant in which, at the time, the “o-line” went to eat every Thursday night.
While eating dinner together, Escalante decided to resurface the coaching fellowship application.
“Gilbride wanted me to reach out to the receivers’ coach, Mike Sullivan, who is now the offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and let him know you’re applying,” said Escalante. “One month later, I was sitting in my office at McDaniel College and I got a call from the running backs coach for the Giants saying that they wanted me to do the coaching fellowship with the Giants. Gilbride and Sullivan were the ones that went to bat for me.”
Escalante, now a quality control coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, attributes April 15, 2009 and the interaction with Gilbride as the day that helped him get a foot into the doors of the NFL.
However, Escalante knows that without the experiences that he had at Springfield College, he would not be where he is today.
“If I wasn’t in the positions that the experiences that I had at Springfield College put me in, then I never would have met Gilbride, and he was ultimately the one that made a push for me,” added Escalante.
Springfield College first popped on to Escalante’s radar in his sophomore year at Glen Rock High School in Glen Rock, N.J. In a meeting with his guidance counselor, Dan Broadhead, Escalante expressed his interest in becoming a Physical Education major. The next two words out of Broadhead’s mouth were “Springfield College.”
Targeting Springfield College and being a football recruit of coach Mike DeLong’s, Escalante made several visits to campus and knew this was the place for him. After sending the application in, the response Escalante got in the mail was not what he had hoped for.
Escalante had been wait-listed.
“I was scared. It was awful,” recalled Escalante. “My dad told me after the fact that he was really nervous for me. He didn’t think I was going to get in.”
Luckily enough for Escalante, Springfield College allowed for him to enroll at the school, and the high school senior was excited to begin his college career, for he would be playing football and wrestling for the Pride.
Just one month before reporting for football’s pre-season camp, Escalante was struck with more bad news.
“A month before camp I herniated a bunch of disks in my back,” said Escalante. Before I even got the chance to put pads on, our athletic trainer Barclay Dugger screened me and he told me I needed serious treatment. I rehabbed that entire fall and tried to come back that spring, but I messed up my back again. Basically I knew my football career was over.”
Knowing Escalante was “down and out,” DeLong encouraged Escalante to stay involved and become a student assistant coach with the team.
“He was persistent with his desire to be a part of the football program, and to do whatever he could,” stated DeLong. “Some guys say they want to do things and then never show up again. Not him. He was very persistent with what he wanted to do and as we got to know him more and more from his years with us, we trusted him with more and more significant responsibility as far as the football team was concerned.”
While working with the team, Escalante was given the opportunity to shadow the offensive coordinator, Mike Cerasuolo, and work with the offensive line. His senior year, Escalante was promoted within the coaching staff and was given the responsibility of handling the wide receivers.
“When I think about my experiences with Coach Cerasuolo, the intensity of his drills are like no other,” commented Escalante. “Coach DeLong has been such a mentor of mine. They live what they preach. They understand the tradition of Springfield College, they have been a part of the tradition and they have done a spectacular job of keeping that tradition alive.”
Going home for the summer following his freshman year, Escalante wanted to keep his coaching fire alive. Knowing that Division III football programs are not together in the summer, Escalante reached out to some teams around his hometown in New Jersey to try and stay active.
After sending out countless emails, letters and phone calls, Escalante heard back from Coach Greg Schiano, who was the head coach of Rutgers University at the time. After the interviewing process, Schiano and the rest of the Rutgers’ staff welcomed Escalante to the team.
“Literally my job changed every day,” said Escalante. “One day if they would need help in operations, I would help there. If they needed help in the weight room, I would help there. If the coaches needed something, I went there. I learned a ton. I spent three summers with them.”
Upon graduating Springfield College and before reporting for the beginning of his two-year Master’s program at McDaniel College as a graduate assistant coach of the football team, Escalante spent 14 days with the New York Giants, as part of the NFL’s Coaching Fellowship program.
While working with the Giants, Escalante become acquainted with Mike Sullivan, the then wide receivers coach and Bill Sheridan, the then linebackers coach. Sullivan and Sheridan are now the offensive and defensive coordinators for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Escalante’s current employer.
The defensive line coach for the Giants during Escalante’s time with the team was a coach by the name of Mike Waufle.
In the same year that Escalante was to finish his Master’s degree at McDaniel, Waufle was hired by the Oakland Raiders as a defensive line coach, and gave Escalante the opportunity to join him in Oakland as a quality control coach.
After a dismal 2010-2011 season for Oakland, the Raiders’ front office decided to relieve the entire coaching staff of their duties, including Escalante.
Returning home to Glen Rock, Escalante started planning his next move.
“I came back home and was networking, and trying to line up my next job when Coach Schiano offered me a job with the Buccaneers,” recalled Escalante. “He hired me for another fellowship that ended up turning into a full-time position with the team.”
Now in his second season with the Buccaneers, Escalante serves as the quality control coach, which is essentially acting as the right-hand man to Sheridan.
“Quality control starts really early and ends really late,” added Escalante. “You are basically the right-hand man to the defensive coordinator. Anything he needs typed up, or video information to study opponents, or [for] us to prepare for a game, I will get anything to him.”
“As for practice, the majority of my instruction is with the scout teams and the long snappers,” continued Escalante. “For me, that is an extra that I do. Another very big part of this position is breaking down film. There is a lot that goes into play, but basically you work with the coordinator one-on-one and help with the position coaches.”
Even though Escalante is now coaching in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he knows that he could not have done it if it weren’t for the outstanding Springfield College community.
“Attending Springfield College was an invaluable experience,” recalled Escalante. “In any career, you want to talk to as many contacts as possible. I probably talk to more Springfield people than anyone else. Whether is it Coach Cerasuolo or Coach DeLong, Coach Holik, Coach Graves, Coach Sullivan, Ted France, you name them, there are just so many great people at that school that made such an impact on my life. To not keep up with these people, it would be a waste because they are such great people. I learned so much from them and it’s been great to have them in my life.”