Athletes, coaches, parents and business leaders heard the news and winced; some clenched their jaws and fists in anger.
Vandals climbed fences, cut locks, broke windows and spray painted walls at Elk Grove High School late Wednesday night and set fire to two storage sheds, according to the Cosumnes Community Services District fire department. The sheds stored football equipment - bags, sleds, water horses, yard markers, down markers, cones and other gear to run practices and games.
The damage is estimated at $60,000; the sting to the community is immeasurable.
It was the latest in a series of break-ins, vandalism and graffiti that has plagued the Thundering Herd program. The team's multipurpose vehicle - "The Gator" - used to haul gear was hijacked, though it was later recovered. Insurance will cover some of Wednesday's losses, but that can take months, and time is key with football practice starting Aug. 12.
"What other sport is there where you practice so many days before a game?" Elk Grove coach Chris Nixon wondered. "We need that equipment. It doesn't make sense."
Lance Briggs, Elk Grove's most famous football player who graduated in 1999, found out about the damage via text pictures of the smoldering remains from his mother, Brenda, who still regularly attends Elk Grove games.
"It's awful what happened," Briggs, an All-Pro linebacker for the Chicago Bears, said by phone Friday after a workout in Kentucky. "Who can be that angry with the football program to do all that? The whole program takes a hit. Is it a personal vendetta?
"Elk Grove means a lot to me. I've heard from a lot of my Elk Grove football family, and people care."
Briggs, The Bee's Player of the Year in 1998, was a fullback and linebacker who led the Thundering Herd to a 27-1 record and back-to-back Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championships (1997-98).
Nixon, the head coach since 2008, was Briggs' offensive coordinator, and they're still close.
Briggs contacted Nixon on Thursday with words of encouragement - and an offer to help financially.
"That's Lance," Nixon said. "The community has been great. Anne Webster, a science teacher (at Elk Grove High) even wrote a check for $500."
Briggs knew those sheds very well. They were constructed by the school's wood shop class but were initially placed in the wrong spot. So Briggs and some of his teammates moved the units - 10 feet by 20 feet - across the field in 1997.
The word "McClatchy" could be seen Thursday on a shed and a McClatchy High School pennant was left on the campus. The schools do not play in the same league, and the last time they played each other in football was in 1989, so it seems unlikely there's a connection to current McClatchy students or players.
Elk Grove senior defensive end Bwon Canada said his team regularly would yell "burn the field" before playing on an opponent's turf, to portray excellence on the road.
Now he wonders.
"I feel like someone heard that and tried to burn our program down, literally," Canada said. "Someone went a long way to do something to hurt us like we're bad people or something.
"This will fuel us even more. We'll push through this together as a team and community."
Anyone with information about the arson can call the Elk Grove Police Department's tip line at (916) 627-3333.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD and listen to his "Extra Point" every Wednesday on ESPN Radio 1320.