Terry Stark wasn’t sure what sort of team he would have this season.
The longtime Inderkum High School football coach lost a ton of talent through graduation, including blue-chip recruits Trajon Cotton to Oregon State and Bee Defensive Player of the Year Josh Falo to USC, and those type of athletes don’t just appear in the locker room out of thin air.
But one certainty this program offers each season is this: an abundance of talent, speed and desire.
The seventh-ranked Tigers flexed their muscles in the trenches and flashed plenty of that speed in belting No. 6 Elk Grove 52-36 in a season opener on Friday night at Thunder Stadium in a battle of run-heavy teams used to pursuing Sac-Joaquin Section championships.
Never miss a local story.
And if there’s one player in this region best defined by his ability to race past people, it’s Isaah Crocker. The Inderkum senior receiver whose scholarship offers include Alabama pulled in touchdown strikes of 65 and 41 yards from Joseph Sapp, Cotton’s successor.
Stark generally sticks to the run, and he got plenty of production out of his wing-T scheme there, too. Aaron Espero scored on runs of 25, 14 and 1 yards, and Leevi Lafaele powered in from a yard out to help avenge a blowout loss at Inderkum by Elk Grove. Halfback Destynd Lewis had a 60-yard touchdown run for Inderkum to cap the scoring.
“One thing I know we have,” Stark said this week, “is effort. The kids give us that.”
That Crocker was able to give anything is testament to his talent and drive. He practiced just once this week due to a hip pointer, but he was clearly the fastest on the field. He also played on kickoff returns and had an interception. He burst onto the scene in last season’s playoffs.
Crocker said he plays for two people in particular: his mother, shot to death in 2007, and God. He added one more to the list: Jamari Moore. The Inderkum sophomore was killed by a hit-and-run driver while riding a bike on Aug. 17.
“I play for him because he didn’t deserve that,” Crocker said this week. “He was like a little brother. It’s sad.”
Inderkum started last season 1-2 before winning 10 consecutive games, including upset playoff wins at Sacramento and Jesuit to reach the section Division II finals against Del Oro, which prevailed at Sacramento State.
Enough starters returned with a cause for the Tigers, who seek to win 10 or more games for the 12th consecutive season under Stark, a run that includes 10 league championships.
Elk Grove showed glimpses of promise in John Heffernan’s coaching debut, including quarterback Jake Jordan scoring on two runs out of the triple-option offense and Matthew Horn returning a kickoff 65 yards for a touchdown.
Heffernan coached at Burbank for 18 seasons, 15 as head coach. He took over for Chris Nixon, who won plenty of games and was beloved by his players but was ultimately a victim of what was described as “Shedgate.”
A team building in the stadium, never finished, was deemed unsafe with improper work permits, according to an investigation launched by the Elk Grove Unified School District, though Nixon argued that he was a football coach, not a builder. The fallout included Nixon losing his football post, an athletic director losing his title and an Elk Grove Unified School District employee losing her job.
All that remains of the building is the foundation slab.