Zack Claiborne was sluggish after battling the flu and tangling with offensive linemen. And there was the sore knee that took away a bit of his burst.
And still, Claiborne dominated his position Saturday. Imagine if the Oak Ridge defensive end were healthy? As it stands, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior had as good a defensive effort in a playoff game as any Trojan in school history.
He had 4 1/2 sacks in a 24-6 victory over previous 12-0 Burbank in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinal, thrusting the Trojans (12-1) into the D-I final for the first time.
Oak Ridge has won four D-II section crowns and is in the D-I field for just the second time. Oak Ridge plays defending champion Granite Bay, which has won nine games in a row and has a strong offensive line and more challenges for Claiborne.
"What a great game and player," Oak Ridge defensive lineman and teammate Jacob Proul said. "Can't block him."
Claiborne has a state-leading 25 sacks. His teammates call him "Freak" for his ability to race past bigger tackles and for his weight-room prowess.
Claiborne remains low-key by nature, but he is also playing with a heavy heart. Claiborne's grandfather John Salsedo is battling cancer and was too sick to attend Oak Ridge games this season.
"I play for him," Claiborne said. "He means a lot to me. I was scared of him when I was little because he was a big guy with this big beard, but then he'd take us out to play football. We became close."
Big on Beau The defensive leader for Granite Bay this season has been 6-2, 230-pound Beau Hershberger. Depending on the scheme, Hershberger plays defensive end or outside linebacker, nimble enough to drop back in coverage.
"That guy right there incredible player," Grizzlies coach Ernie Cooper said, eyeing Hershberger.
Hershberger works hard in the weight room and in the classroom. He has been motivated and challenged by his father, Greg Hershberger, a weight-room buff himself who was a receiver for Chico State under coach Mike Bellotti in the 1980s.
Beau Hershberger, a senior, has received recruiting interest from Sacramento State, UC Davis, Army, Navy and Air Force.
"I work very hard at it," Hershberger said of his current 4.0 grade-point average, adding he would like to get into the criminal justice field. "It's very important to me. I put a lot into it."
"Bear" facts Vista del Lago defensive end Chris Grunsky is called "Bear" by teammates, family and friends. He had a team-high 13 tackles and three sacks in a 28-21 D-III semifinal victory over Inderkum to put the Eagles into a title game for the first time. Vista plays Oakdale on Friday.
Grunsky's nickname comes from his parents, who used to call him "Cub" since he hibernated so much as a child. Since then, the "Cub" has grown into a "Bear" and a player.
"He's really grown into the position and had some great games for us," said Vista coach Chris Jones, adding that Grunsky transitioned from receiver and defensive back.
Oh, Canada Elk Grove defensive end Bwon Canada had hoped to receive medical clearance to play against Folsom on Saturday in the D-II title game with a broken left forearm. Instead, he had surgery Monday to have a plate and two screws inserted, ending those hopes.
Elk Grove will miss what coach Chris Nixon calls Canada's "endless motor."
The Thundering Herd faces Folsom quarterback Jake Browning, who has passed for 4,763 yards and 58 touchdowns.