A former Buccaneers’ fourth round selection and cornerback speaks about his life after football? Alan Zemaitis lets people know what happens when your career doesn’t turn out exactly how you imagined it.
Fans across the NFL always hear the stories about the lives of big name players outside football. One thing no one ever seems to take a focus on is the players whose careers just don’t pan out. I recently was able to interview a former Buccaneers’ corner, and coach of mine, on his life during his stint in the NFL and how he coped with the ending of his playing career.
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Alan Zemaitis was a standout corner for the Penn State Nittany Lions throughout his career, being a part of history by playing for the legendary Coach Joe Paterno. Zemaitis was three-time All-Big Ten cornerback and was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the nation’s top defensive back. He was also apart of the iconic 2005 11-1 football team, who went on to beat the Florida State Seminoles in the Orange Bowl. Zemaitis played alongside some Penn State greats such as Paul Posluszny, Sean Lee, and Tamba Hali.
In 2006, Zemaitis received the call from Super Bowl winning coach Jon Gruden saying he was going to be selected. “It was amazing. I felt that all my hard work for all those years paid off,” Zemaitis stated recently in my interview with him.
“It was amazing. I felt that all my hard work for all those years paid off.”
When asked about what was going through his head during the drafting process he said he was hoping that teams would see the intangibles such as leadership, determination, and eagerness to learn, which he still displays today. Zemaitis’ leadership is bar none. There is very few people who you can meet who can give you the type of leadership that he gives.
Once Zemaitis talked to coach Gruden, coach Monte Kiffin, and the personal director, he booked his flight to Tampa. “It was easy transition coping with moving to Tampa. They have so many people to help you, and get you focused just on football. The biggest adjustment was not to piss off the older players in the locker room. Surviving the locker room is like a reality show in itself. Who are you going to align yourself with? I came out of that experience with a lot of good friends that I still have and stay in contact with today.”
This anecdote is something most may not realize.
What goes on off the field always sparks the interests of fans so that they may learn more about their favorite team/players. One of those good friends that Zemaitis mentioned was his defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, who helped him get an internship many years later.
Zemaitis and the 2006-2007 Bucs had an up and down year. Unfortunately, his rookie season was plagued with injuries. “I had a Labrum tear that I came into the league with and my knee was progressively getting worse from the ACL tear I had in high school,” he said, giving insight on his ailments. Zemaitis was released from the Bucs following the season, but shortly after he found himself in the CFL. He played for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for a year, but soon found out that his body could not take it anymore. “I kind of knew the light on my career was going out.”
Once his football career came to an end, Zemaitis had trouble coping. He explained that he missed the locker room and the structure football gave him, and his following jobs proved he could not give that up. Zemaitis found himself coaching for East Lake High in Tarpon Springs Florida, and even won a couple district titles. Shortly after this, he decided to return to Penn State to further his education, but it never panned out. He soon found himself in another coaching gig at Susquehanna University in 2o12, where he still is today.
When asked about how he uses the things he learned in his NFL career to help his current players he said,
"“Just never take anything for granted. Work hard every day because you can achieve anything you want. Also find a role to help out any organization that you may be a part of, sports or business world.”"
Personally, I found it extremely interesting to transfer to a school, and play football for a former college player I use to idolize. From waiting outside Beaver stadium after games to receive autographs to creating a “make your own player” of him on Madden, there was so much thrill in being able to interview him. Coach Zemaitis has the aptitude of leadership that every coach needs, and I’m thankful to call him my coach.