High School Sports

Prep football: Injury brings perspective, unity to Elk Grove, Grant

It was the kid’s resolve that especially struck everyone huddled around the stretcher Friday night.

At midfield, Julian Brown was being fitted for an ambulance ride during the region’s showcase game of the week, his senior season at Elk Grove High School suddenly over. Brown suffered a compound fracture of his left leg against rival Grant, and here he was trying to negotiate with the paramedic.

“Can I just watch the rest of the game first?”

No, son, the paramedic said in so many words, you’re headed to the hospital – immediately.

Defending a punt return in the first half, Brown went down in a heap in full view of a standing-room-only crowd at Elk Grove.

Thundering Herd players hurried over to tend to Brown, a beloved honors student who plays on special teams and in the secondary. Players from both teams quickly took a knee, united in support.

The injury happened in front of the Grant sideline. Pacers coach Mike Alberghini went over to comfort Brown, as did scores of Elk Grove staffers, including coach Chris Nixon.

“I told him that his courage speaks well of him and his family, and we’re all behind him,” Alberghini said of Brown on Saturday. “Our teams play so hard against each other, very physical, but you never want to see anyone get hurt like that.”

Brown underwent surgery at Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center and is expected to make a full recovery. Saturday, teammates visited Brown, who was in good spirits. He texted The Bee, “I’m feeling better already.”

After a 15-minute delay Friday, play resumed amid a somber tone. Ranked second by The Bee and inspired by their teammate, the Thundering Herd players admirably made a game of it in the second half after trailing 16-0. But Elk Grove fell to the No. 3 Pacers 26-19.

“It really was a turning point for us, and the guys played for Julian Brown,” Nixon said. “I was emotional after that injury. We all were. He’s a great kid. Julian will have surgery, and there will be a long rehab, but he’ll get through it, and we’ll go through it with him. We’re all behind him.”

So are the Grant players.

“Oh, man, I feel terrible for (Brown),” Pacers senior captain/linebacker Chris Atteberry said. “It’s unfortunate. He’s a great kid. It makes you appreciate your health and having a senior year.”

Scores of area athletes went to social media late Friday and Saturday to offer support for Brown. Elk Grove senior cornerback Shaunard Harts said he’ll tell Brown of his own recovery as motivation.

“I broke my leg my freshman year against Davis, the homecoming game,” Harts said. “It feels like it was yesterday, so I know what it feels like and how hard it is. Julian will heal up well, though. Proud of him.”

Another football player who can relate to such heartache is Brandon Johnson. The Franklin wide receiver had his junior season end when he broke his leg in the 2013 season opener. He endured surgery, a leg cast and a wheelchair before learning to walk again, rounding back into shape and, finally, returning to football. Johnson has enjoyed a productive season for his coaching father, Mike, for the No. 11 Wildcats.

His father informed him of Brown’s injury at halftime of Franklin’s game against Sheldon.

“I’m glad Dad told me because I didn’t want to find out later,” Johnson said. “Hearing what happened to Julian and thinking about it later really hit me hard. I thought, ‘That’s exactly what happened to me.’ I completely feel for him.”

Johnson said Brown might experience doubts during his recovery.

“I thought the worst,” Johnson said. “I know what (Brown) is going through, but he needs to know it’s just a bump in the road. If he works hard and believes in himself, he’ll be OK.”

When told Brown tried to talk his way into watching the rest of the game to support his teammates, Johnson laughed, then paused as he became emotional.

“Oh, my gosh, wow,” he said. “That shows real heart on his part. He didn’t want to leave. When I was on the stretcher last year, I told my dad that he needed to stay with the team, that he wasn’t coming with me to the hospital, that I’ll see him later, and that I was the parent this time. I didn’t want to leave, either. You love football so much, you never want to leave the field, no matter what.”


Check out “The Bee Preps Show,” hosted by Joe Davidson of The Bee and Mike Finnerty of All-City Preps, on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. on Comcast Sports Net California. It will be repeated Tuesday at 10 p.m. and Friday at 4 p.m. It also can be seen each Friday at sacbee.com/preps.

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