It’s not often a field is named after an active coach.
But at Grant High School, where the football program has long served as a source of community pride in Del Paso Heights, Mike Alberghini’s name has become synonymous with the student body motto: “Pacer for Life.”
The energized and fiery 69-year-old coach will be honored before Friday night’s season opener against Rocklin when two plaques commemorating Alberghini’s achievements will be unveiled and the field named in his honor. Family, friends, alumni and distinguished community members will celebrate the man who goes by “Coach Al.”
Alberghini said he’s moved nearly beyond words.
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“I’m touched, and it’ll really be nice,” Alberghini said. “We’ve had a lot of good teams and a lot of great kids.”
The acknowledgment reflects a life’s work, with no end in sight. Alberghini said he is in his element as a coach. This is his hobby and passion.
“I’ll know when it will be time to stop coaching, and I’ll walk away,” said Alberghini, who is in his 48th year in the school district and has been on the football staff since the early 1980s. “But not now. I still enjoy this, still love doing this.”
Known for his gruff persona on the sideline, Alberghini shows a softer – somewhat silly – side on Grant’s campus, where the retired teacher has long had a special bond with students. He urges them to do the right thing, to be good citizens, students, family members, Pacers.
Alberghini endured his most trying weeks as coach last year. Hours before the Pacers were to host a playoff game in November, popular defensive back Jaulon “JJ” Clavo, while on a food run off campus with teammates, was gunned down and died from his wounds. A teenager whom police said Clavo did not know pleaded not guilty to murder charges last month.
Del Paso Heights, and much of Sacramento, rallied around the Pacers and the Clavo family. JJ’s mother, Nicole, said: “What Coach Al has done for my son and so many of these boys is just remarkable. He’s a special man.”
Said Alberghini: “This is what sports is supposed to be, coming together. Besides building character, it teaches us elements we need.”
Alberghini elevated a strong program into a powerhouse after he became the head coach in 1991. His first team went 10-1. His second won the first of seven Sac-Joaquin Section championships. Grant was the section’s first team to win a CIF state football title in 2008. Alberghini’s 2010 team was ranked No. 1 in the state for 13 weeks, and his 2014 squad was 14-0 before a season-ending loss.
Alberghini has a 262-51-1 record with an ongoing section-record 25 consecutive playoff berths. Under his leadership, Grant has won 16 league championships while sending dozens of players to college on scholarships – some of whom have returned to teach and coach at Grant.
“Coach Al is Grant football and always will be, and everyone here loves him,” said Grant assistant coach Carl Reed, who played for Alberghini and whose father, Lynn, has been a part of the program for decades.
The only thing more treasured to Alberghini than Pacers football is his wife, Mary, and family. While he no longer has his parents, Alberghini holds them dearly in his memory. His mother, Deloris, died in 2006 at age 82 and father, Richards, at 86 last spring. It will be Alberghini’s first football season without the man who helped shape his life.
Late in the 2015 campaign, Grant officials announced to the home crowd that the stadium would bear Alberghini’s name this season. Richards Alberghini attended – emotional and proud.
“Dad was there because it was important to him and it was important to me,” Alberghini said. “That meant a lot to me. He was lucid, outgoing, then fell and re-injured his back in the spring. He knew he might not fully recover, so he knew it was time to go, time to go home, and he did.
“He was the greatest influence in my life. My coaches were good, too, but the thing about my parents, they were such good, solid people. They raised us right. They were always there, great supporters, and we succeeded because we did it with hard work.”
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