He went by Donald Hair 30 years ago, a shy, good-mannered kid who gained national acclaim while setting numerous football rushing records as a shifty, diminutive tailback at McClatchy High School.
Now going by Don Hair – “it’s funny how our names get shorter as we get older,” he said Monday – he has indelible, meaningful memories of racing into the end zone at Hughes Stadium and being surrounded by giddy teammates.
“You never forget the great times,” Hair said.
Many of the old Lions reunited Saturday night to honor 45 alumnai inducted into the school’s third athletic Hall of Fame class in a banquet at the Sacramento Asian Sports Foundation. Hair was the most decorated. He was a “Faces in the Crowd” entry in Sports Illustrated in 1984 after scoring his 38th touchdown – a 64-yard run in a 24-13 victory over Christian Brothers – in 10 regular-season games to break the previous 30-year old state record held by Dick Bass of Vallejo.
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Hair scored 42 times in 12 games that season, No. 26 going off tackle in the heat of September or down the sideline in the mud and muck of November. Named The Bee’s Player of the Year, Hair outscored the rest of the Metro League, a power conference back then, by himself. Remarkably, only 12-1 Highlands and Sac-Joaquin Section Division I champion Elk Grove scored more touchdowns in the region than Hair that season.
Hair’s 5-foot-9, 170-pound frame scared off Division I college programs, and only Boise State, a Division I-AA team from the Big Sky Conference, and Sacramento State, a D-II school then, offered scholarships. He chose the Hornets and became the program’s first scholarship football player. Hair gained just five pounds at Sac State, but his legend grew.
He graduated from Sac State as the program’s all-time-leading scorer, and he still owns a handful of rushing and all-purpose marks.
And Hair still feels all of it. His left knee troubled him in college and still stiffens up. His right knee needs to be replaced. He rubs out the aches when navigating a flight of stairs, and he eases into the bleacher seats as he watches his daughters play basketball – Janae, a senior point guard at Sheldon High, and Donielle, a sophomore guard at Dominican University in San Rafael.
“But you know what?” Hair said enthusiastically. “I wouldn’t change anything. I had a gift of football for a short period of time, and I loved it. And when it’s done, it’s done, and I was proud of my career. My knees hurt, but I don’t have regrets.”
If there was a regret for Hair, who turns 47 this month, it’s that his knees prompted an early retirement from his youth authority work at the Department of Corrections in Stockton.
“Your body pays for it when you play football,” Hair said. “You know you’ll have pains down the road. But I feel so blessed to have played at McClatchy and Sac State for so many great people. It was such a special time.”
Hair said he is forever indebted to his former coaches, Bob Sandoval, now retired from McClatchy, and the late Bob Mattos at Sac State, “who had great faith in me to give me that scholarship.”
“It wasn’t just me,” Hair said. “I had the best teammates. It was everyone that made me who I was.”
The man who especially molded Hair was his father, Donald Sr. He raised Hair as a single father, steering him toward sports as a 5-year old. Donald Sr. was a longtime teacher at Cal Middle School and a decades-long coach in a number of sports at McClatchy. He’s still a fan, attending the Hall of Fame banquet on Saturday as one proud pop.
“Dad was the one parent I had after my parents divorced when I was 5,” Hair said. “He took care of me. He kept me straight, taught me how to treat people the right way, got me involved in church. He was the impact I needed for character and integrity. I wouldn’t have accomplished anything without my dad. He deserves the biggest of awards.”
Other notable McClatchy Hall of Fame inductees included: Brian Bedford, a Bee All-Metro football player in 1982 who in 1983 set the national high school record for season field-goal percentage in basketball; Dion James, a first-round pick by the Brewers in 1980 who played 11 major-league seasons; Kevin Clark, a defensive back who played four seasons for the Denver Broncos; and 1986 classmates Karen Henderson (volleyball) and Shannon Padovan (softball), who became All-Americans in college.
Go to www.restoretheroar.org for the complete list of honorees.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.