He’s just glad they didn’t name it Mike Alberghini Memorial Field.
The field at Grant High School in Del Paso Heights was named for the Grant Pacers head coach Mike Alberghini, or “Coach Al,” as he’s been known in the area for almost 50 years. Alberghini also received two plaques signifying all he’s accomplished at the school where he’s been on the Pacers’ football staff in some capacity since the early 1980s.
And then his Bee-ranked No. 5 Pacers went onto the Mike Alberghini Football Field and rallied to beat the No. 6 Rocklin Thunder, 21-20, in the season opener for both teams. Senior running back Tyree Marcelle had scoring runs of 55 and 3 yards to pace the Pacers. He finished with 202 yards on 20 carries. New quarterback Cam Davis threw a 13-yard pass to Lawrence Hardy with 1:38 remaining and Sox Lee’s conversion gave the Pacers its first lead of the night.
Alberghini took over as head coach of the Pacers in 1991 and has compiled a 262-51-1 record and an ongoing section-record 25 consecutive playoff berths. The Pacers are the Sac-Joaquin Section’s first team to win a CIF state football title in 2008.
For all his success in making Grant one of the section’s most successful programs, Alberghini has never been one to elevate himself above it. His understated demeanor off the field belies a fiery persona on the field, and his players love his passion for the game and the love and loyalty he has for them.
And, as his pre-game demeanor attests, the ceremony was as understated as he is before the opening kick, and lasted all of three minutes. There was no speech, no confetti cannons, no fuss.
Rocklin and Grant have been section Division II heavyweights for years. The 2009 section semi-final game between the Thunder and Pacer became an instant classic with a Thunder goal-line stand and a missed Grant field goal preserving a 21-19 Thunder victory. Since then, Rocklin head coach Greg Benzel and Mike Alberghini have had a mutual respect for each other and their respective programs.
Last season, after Pacers’ senior defensive back JJ Clavo was shot and killed before a playoff game, it was Benzel and his entire Thunder varsity team that ended practice in Rocklin early to get on a bus and travel to Del Paso Heights where Clavo was honored before Grant’s 35-0 playoff-opening victory over Beyer of Modesto.
Benzel said at the time that gathering his team to pay respect for a Pacers player and the Pacers program was an easy decision to make, even though his squad was preparing for its own playoff game.
“(Grant) is a program that’s rich in tradition,” said Benzel back in November, three weeks before his team would lose to Del Oro, 30-20, in the section finals. “We wanted to make a statement (of solidarity). Our hearts are with them.”
Friday night, and a new season dawns. Rocklin looks to be tough again this season as new Thunder quarterback Michael Nolan and senior receiver Kier Gibson-Adams hooked up for a pair of touchdowns in the first half. Nolan threw another scoring toss to tight end Charlie McBride.
Grant has a new quarterback in Davis and four new running backs led by Marcelle. Davis’ stat line was not impressive (8-for 19, 69 yards, 2 interceptions) but his last throw, the game winner, was the only completion he needed to make.
“We’re very athletic again,” Alberghini said earlier this week. “We’ve got good size. It’s all about coming together. A lot of these guys are still learning.”