When gunshots rang out near Grant High School late Friday afternoon, they reverberated five miles away at Inderkum High, site of a Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III playoff battle between Inderkum and Lincoln.
The shooting claimed the life of Grant Pacers starting defensive back Jaulon Clavo, the cousin of Inderkum senior running back Jimmie Johnson. Inderkum running back Derrick Henderson’s cousin, DeMetri McGruder, was in the car with Clavo but was not shot, Henderson said.
Johnson played Friday night with a heavy heart and dedicated his 178-yard, two-touchdown effort to Clavo in leading his No. 3-seed Tigers to an 82-32 victory over Lincoln. They play Manteca next Friday at Inderkum. Manteca beat Central Valley 31-28 Friday to advance.
“I was getting taped up for the game when I heard he got shot in the neck and died,” Johnson said after game, as tears streamed down his cheeks. “He was a great guy, and we grew up together. He always made me happy. I saw him at a party last weekend, but I didn’t get to say I love him. I did it all tonight for him.”
Grant and Inderkum have never played each other in football despite the close proximity and many family bloodlines that stretch from Del Paso Heights to North Natomas.
Johnson said he didn’t once think about not playing Friday night. And Inderkum coach Terry Stark said he didn’t have to ask.
“Football isn’t important when something like this happens,” said Stark, whose team improved to 11-0. “Our players knew him (Clavo), but you play the game and then mourn after. I knew Jimmie would want to play for (Clavo). Some of our guys were breaking down and crying during halftime, and you just embrace them. It’s just really, really sad.”
Stark saw his team force five Fighting Zebras turnovers and convert four of them into scores, including a Nate Tupai 50-yard interception return. Johnson scored on runs of 66 and 85 yards, while Raekwon Turner scored on runs of 80 and 62 yards as the Tigers were just too fast for the Fighting Zebras’ defense.
“We weren’t trying to run up the score,” Stark said. “(Lincoln) opened the second half by scoring in 34 seconds, and if we had gone on a long, 15-play scoring drive I may have pulled some guys, but we just kept making big plays.”
Stark said Lincoln put nine defenders in the box to stop the Tigers’ running game and junior quarterback Trajon Cotton made the Fighting Zebras pay. Cotton was just 5 for 7 for the game but had touchdown passes of seven and 49 yards.
“A lot of people think we can’t throw,” Stark said. “But Trajon, he’s special.”
Stark and the Tigers will be without Henderson the rest of the playoffs. Henderson, the Tigers’ career tackles leader who also has 14 rushing touchdowns, tore his left ACL in last week’s 55-3 victory over Pioneer. He said he went to the hospital Friday afternoon and early evening to check on his cousin and to help console Clavo’s family members.
“I grew up with Jaulon and we hung out just about every weekend,” Henderson said. “We all (Johnson included) went to Natomas Middle School together. It’s just tough, man. It’s like someone is playing a bad joke on us.”
Mark Billingsley is a Carmichael-based freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org or @editorwriter001.