After a successful NFL career, coaching basketball was Chris Singleton’s new game plan. However, after a persuasive 20-minute conversation with Gilbert football’s head coach Derek Zellner, Singleton quickly changed his mind and reverted back to football.
Ever since putting on the pads as a young kid, Singleton knew he was made for football. Singleton turned heads when he played football for the University of Arizona. He was able to make it to the All-PAC-10 first team from 1986-1989 and was a first team All-American in 1990. He was ultimately selected eighth overall in the 1990 NFL draft by the New England Patriots and played there from 1990-1993.
After playing for the Miami Dolphins from 1993-1998, Singleton hung up his cleats and ended his illustrious athletic career. Despite being at the end of his athletic peak, Singleton’s next chapter of his life was just beginning.
Singleton, who originally sent his application to coach the Gilbert High School basketball team, was surprised when the school asked him if he wanted to be the linebackers coach for the football team. While reluctant at first, Singleton quickly realized that being a part of the Gilbert coaching staff was the perfect fit for him.
“I feel like I have been a part of this staff for years and I have only been in this room for 20 minutes,” said Singleton. After 20 minutes into their first conversation together he told Zellner, “I’m on board.”
Upon joining the Gilbert coaching staff, Singleton knew early on that he would be unable to treat high school players as he did the pros in the NFL. He decided that going back to the basics of football and running simple drills would be the best way to teach these young athletes.
Being so knowledgeable about the game of football made the transition to coaching relatively easy and Singleton did not miss a beat.
“I know football and have played football all my life so it was an easy transition,” Singleton said. “Once I started to get into it, the passion came back. I love being around the football players. They have a different mentality and attitude. Once I was around the players and the coaches, I was glad I was back.”
Singleton has been able to use his NFL experience to help motivate the players and bring an outsider's perspective to the coaching staff. Nevertheless, Singleton knows that just because he played at a professional level, he still must treat everyone with respect.
“He brings a wealth of knowledge that somebody else wouldn’t,” Zellner said. “But he does not shove that he was a college player or an NFL player down their throats. If you didn’t know him, you would have never known he was a star at the University of Arizona and in the NFL. That's how humble he is.”
Being coached by a former professional football player has had a significant impact on all the young players. In addition to improving their football skills, they also benefit from a positive role model as well.
Having a mentor like Singleton, who has experienced many highs and lows in his career, is an invaluable resource to every member of the team.
The players on the Tigers do not take this rare and special opportunity lightly. They highly value Singleton's mentorship and know how lucky they are to be coached by a professional football player.
“It's exciting to know that I’m going to be able to take in his knowledge and experience in the NFL and absorb everything that he has learned,” said linebacker Cooper Zellner. “It's nice to know that I’m getting the best coaching out there, coach Singleton is one of the best coaches I can ask for.”
Singleton's calm, yet commanding coaching style has meshed well with the entire team. Since Singleton's arrival three years ago the defense and specifically the linebackers have improved tremendously. Through Singleton's leadership, the Tigers' linebackers have been terrifying for opposing teams to play against yet they have even more to strive for.
Singleton’s message to these young linebackers is simple, even with their recent success one should never be satisfied or complacent. He urges them to keep pushing themselves harder as there is always room for improvement.
Singleton works just as hard off the field to make sure all the players grow up to be mature young men.
Singleton said, “When I talk about getting better I don't only mean getting better as a football player. It's being better in school, being a better brother, being a better son to your mother and father. Getting better everyday will translate to the field.”
Unfortunately for the Tigers, Singleton has recently undergone knee surgery so he has been unable to attend any practices or games. Despite Singleton being out temporarily, the Tigers remain motivated and are playing even harder in honor of their coach.
Not only do the Tigers miss Singleton as a coach but most importantly, they miss the person that Coach Zellner describes as “one of the best humans on the planet.”
The Tiger's lost to seventh-ranked Horizon on Friday 45-13. However, the Tigers remain calm going into Campo Verde next week and will remember Singleton's most famous saying: “Nothing is as bad as it seems and nothing is as good as it seems.”
Remy Mastey is a sports journalism student at Arizona State University covering Gilbert High School athletics.