These are not the Grant Pacers we’re accustomed to.
Yes, the blue and gold colors and slick helmets are familiar, as is the pregame bluster. There is size and speed, but not a lot of bodies.
And, sometimes, not near enough effort, which should concern the team captains as much as it does the coaches.
Grant is 1-2, having won its opener big over Davis and then losing big in Fresno and then again on Friday in Del Paso Heights, a crushing and stunning 42-14 setback to rising-fast Capital Christian.
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Not too long ago, it would have been unfathomable to think of Grant losing to a small school such as Capital Christian. But the winds of change have roared through the Sacramento prep football landscape, whisking away the Pacers as the region’s most formidable and feared program. Area programs waited years to close the gap, and they attack like sharks on the wounded in open water.
The boss here is Mike Alberghini. He’s in his 50th year coaching in the Twin Rivers Unified School District and 28th as head coach of the Pacers after serving as defensive coordinator throughout the 1980s. No one understands the pulse of the Pacers more than Coach Al, but even the proud leader is weary.
This is the youngest team Grant has trotted onto the field under Alberghini, “by far,” he said. They make youthful mistakes. They drop passes, get caught from behind and then drop their heads when trailing big.
The Pacers have 37 players, but it goes beyond declining numbers impacting programs across the country due to concussion concerns. Grant has lost players via transfer unlike before, and seniors elected not to play, another change of norm
Alberghini isn’t afraid of critique. He has faced it for years, including teams that went 14-0. No one bears this burden more than the man who built Grant into such a mega power.
This fall marks the 10th anniversary of Grant’s spirited run to the CIF State Open Division championship, a victory over national power Long Beach Poly. It remains the most significant football triumph in Sac-Joaquin Section history, given the magnitude of the stakes.
Grant maintained the momentum. It was 12-1 in 2009 and was state-ranked No. 1 by Cal-Hi Sports for the season’s first 14 weeks in 2010. Grant’s last great team was in 2014, a 14-1 outfit that fell to Folsom’s 16-0 juggernaut in the NorCal finals.
Grant went 10-2 in 2015 and 8-5 in 2016. Last season, the Pacers dipped to 4-6, their poorest showing since 1990. Last season snapped a section-record 26 consecutive playoff seasons. It was just Grant’s third losing season since the 1970s.
“We can be awfully good, or we can be awfully bad,” Alberghini said. “In the first game, we had something to prove, and we did. Then we stepped off the bus after a four-hour drive to Fresno and had nothing. In the second half, we flat-out stopped playing.
“Sometimes, I’m disillusioned with the lack of effort,” Alberghini said. “Some of it is youth. One day we have the effort and the next we don’t. I’m so used to our kids being fighters, but we still have plenty of time to grow and get better. We have a lot of good kids and good players. We’re capable.”
Grant plays Franklin on Friday in a nonleague finale and then enters the Sierra Foothill League as newcomers via realignment. This is the league that features top-ranked Folsom, No. 2 Oak Ridge, No. 3 Del Oro, No. 11 Rocklin and No. 12 Granite Bay. Mistake-prone young teams get devoured.
Alberghini has more pressing concerns than the SFL schedule. He’s the papa bear here, and he frets over how kids will get home after practice and games, if they have enough to eat, if they’re staying on top of their studies, if all is well at home.
The Pacers are fractured right now, scrambling to find themselves.
“We can be better,” quarterback Xavier Johnson said. And no one weeps for a heavyweight.
“No one feels sorry for us,” Alberghini said. “And I’m glad. We don’t want anyone to feel sorry for us. It’s a long season. We can come together, but we have to do it together.”
Tailback city — Be it a large school in Elk Grove or a medium-sized one in Grass Valley or a smaller one in Placer County, Friday was a night for running backs. Jacob Trach rushed for 384 yards on just 13 carries and scored six touchdowns to power Cosumnes Oaks past River City, 55-20.
The yards and touchdowns represent school records. Coach Derick Milgrim said for all of his senior’s gaudy numbers, “he’s an even better kid.”
In Auburn, Hans Grassman rushed for 309 yards on 28 carries and scored five times in No. 4 Placer’s 69-40 win over Bishop Manogue. A junior, Grassman rumbles at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. He’s an accomplished rugby player, too, though he doesn’t say much.
Said Placer coach Joey Montoya, “He’s super quiet. He’s maybe said five words all season. Great kid.”
Dawson Fay rushed for 246 yards and four touchdowns to lift Nevada Union to its first victory, topping Napa 59-34. Fay carries the weight of the entire program as the Miners have dedicated the season to the death of two teammates from a spring car accident.
Follow The Bee’s Joe Davidson: email@example.com, @SacBee_JoeD, sacbee.com/high-school.