Scars reveal a lot about a football career.
Malcolm Floyd points to his surgically repaired knees where blown ligaments dulled his speed and stalled his playing days.
Sammie Stroughter doesn’t have to point. His grimace speaks of the pain of his feet, where three surgeries for turf toe drove him out of the game but not the sport.
The one-time NFL receivers, Floyd from 1994-97 and Stroughter 2009-12, remind the players they coach now that, more than scars, football left them with an overwhelming sense of joy and achievement. That’s why they cannot stay away and why they took on challenging jobs this season, Floyd at McClatchy High School and Stroughter at Rio Americano, with the collective vow to boost football fortunes on campuses not used to such things.
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“Football memories, especially in high school, last forever,” Floyd said. “Being involved in anything at school is so important. My job is to make sure these guys have fun. Football is hard work but it can still be fun. You develop camaraderie, someone to lean on when times are tough, life lessons, overcoming obstacles, and young men need to learn these lessons.”
Said Stroughter, “I tell the kids that I played at all levels, but it’s the high school days I remember most. You learn about discipline and accountability, about being a teammate. So enjoy it while you can.”
Floyd and Stroughter work for schools best known for academics. The coaches understand that a successful football team, or even just a competitive one, can boost morale on campus.
But the challenges are enormous and not an overnight fix.
McClatchy last reached the postseason in 1996 and last produced a winning season in 1995. The Lions have gone 3-7 in each of the last three seasons. They are 0-2 now, losing heartbreakers to River City (25-21) and to Rio Americano (27-20).
Rio last made the playoffs in 2011 and last produced a winner in 2008. The Raiders are 2-1, outlasting Cordova 42-35 and falling to Center 26-22.
Floyd, 45, is in his second tour at McClatchy, having coached the Lions from 2008-12. He felt obligated to coach his alma mater again, where in 1989 his speed led to a Fresno State scholarship and brief NFL career, mainly with the Houston Oilers, when he went by Malcolm Seabron.
“I have to do this, for the kids, for the school, because this is where I got my start,” said Floyd, whose brother, Malcom, played at River City and later the San Diego Chargers from 2004-15.
Stroughter, 31, was a star receiver at Granite Bay, then at Oregon State and played three seasons with Tampa Bay. Like Floyd, his NFL career was mostly unremarkable, though he holds the franchise record for longest kick return on a 97-yard touchdown against Carolina in 2009.
Stroughter was an assistant coach for two seasons at Granite Bay and jumped at a chance to head his own program this year.
“So much fun,” he said. “But it’s a lot of work. As an assistant coach, you can show up for practice and go. As the head coach, you need to be around for the kids to see you. I took a leap of faith. I’m still learning, but I have energy and I can teach the game. And Malcolm and I are at places where we are trying to get the football tradition back.”
The coaches believe that positive reinforcement is the most powerful motivator. They are not yellers and screamers, though they speak up about their practice venues as they stress safety. It’s common for a gopher to pop his head up at either school. McClatchy will soon have an new practice field, through school-bond measures.
“We’re finally in the 21st century,” Floyd said with a laugh.
Rio Americano plays its home games at Del Campo High and is on the list to get a new on-campus playing surface.
Floyd and Stroughter met before a Thursday night game at Hughes Stadium last week, teasing each other that they wanted an autograph. Both still look game fit. Stroughter coaches in cleats. Floyd will coach in shorts, even if it’s snowing, and players marvel at his muscled calves.
“Malcolm will still catch some curl routes in practice,” McClatchy trainer Rohit Sharma said. “If he drops a ball, he’ll do pushups. He doesn’t drop. He’s still got it.”
Stroughter still runs routes, too, then ices his tender feet later. He has caught the attention of his players, too.
“It’s amazing,” said Rio lineman Jimmy Vines. “He’s helped me find a new level of passion for the sport. I constantly want to impress.”
Said Rio teammate Jordan Baker, a tight end/linebacker, “(Coach) believes in us. Football is important to me because I’ve learned most of my life skills from the game.”
Parents notice, too.
“Coach Floyd is one of the most positive people I’ve ever seen, and the kids love him,” said Brian Hamilton, a McClatchy alum and area basketball coach whose son, Julice Hamilton, is a Lions receiver. “You want your kids coached by a guy like this.”
Floyd and Stroughter grew up in impoverished areas, Floyd in Oak Park and South Sacramento, and Stroughter in Vallejo and North Highlands. They needed sports. McClatchy and Rio Americano have student-athletes who come from broken families, and sports serve as a positive release.
But neither coach wants to be hailed as a hero to their players. Heroes, the coaches say, should be parents. Floyd and Stroughter revere their mothers.
Leataata Floyd was so admired as a decadeslong volunteer on campus that an elementary school in the Sacramento City Unified School District bears her name. She has been a pillar of strength at the low-cost apartments at Seavey Circle, not far from the upscale Land Park neighborhoods that also feed into McClatchy.
“My mom, she’s everything,” Floyd said. He joked before kickoff last week, “I told her to go play bingo instead. Nope. She’s here!”
Stroughter’s mother, Andrea Brown, works as a nurse. She’s a giver, warm in every way, Stroughter said.
“I grew up seeing her work hard, and she’d drive eight hours to Oregon State to hand me a care package, then say, ‘Now go to class!’ ” Stroughter said. “That’s Mom. It’s all about working hard.”