Mike Alberghini soon expects to march blissfully onto his new field of dreams.
The Grant High School football coach said he may reach down and tug on the grass to make sure the new synthetic turf at Rutherford Stadium on the Del Paso Heights campus is really there. The summer-long installation forced the Pacers to to practice on nearby fields – or what used to resemble fields.
With the drought, Grant’s practice digs look like a desert.
“A clump of grass right now is an oasis,” Alberghini said Monday. “Some of our pass routes wind up on the blacktop or sidewalks. With all this dirt, we look like a buffalo herd running through, dust everywhere.”
Though frustrated with the conditions, Alberghini hasn’t lost his sense of humor. And there’s plenty of optimism when he discusses the Pacers, even with a voice already strained from barking instructions, imploring effort and demanding accountability.
Alberghini, in his 47th year with the district (now Twin Rivers) and 25th as the Pacers’ coach, sizes up his team, ranked No. 2 by The Sacramento Bee, as big, fast and motivated.
252-49-2 Mike Alberghini’s record as Grant’s football coach
In other words, more of the same. Last season, Grant was 14-0 before losing to top-ranked Folsom in the CIF Northern California Division I title game at Sacramento State.
“We were disappointed at the end, but we got beat by an outstanding team,” Alberghini said.
That loss has spurred the Pacers, anchored by experienced linemen and running backs, as they prepare for Friday’s opener against No. 10 Burbank.
Alberghini, the defensive coordinator throughout the 1980s, became the coach before the 1991 season, and his first team was 10-1. He’s 252-49-2, and his teams have made the playoffs 24 times and won 18 league championships, seven section crowns and the 2008 state title.
“I’m very proud of all of that and especially for our kids,” said Alberghini, 68, who emphasized he has no plans to retire. “What else is there to do in life if your favorite hobby is what you like to do? When I find that I don’t want to do this, I’ll walk away, but I’d like to be around a few more years.
What else is there to do in life if your favorite hobby is what you like to do? … As long as it’s a viable thing for me and the kids to do this, and I think it still is, I’ll be here.
Mike Alberghini, Grant football coach
“It would be a terrible loss if I left. … As long as it’s a viable thing for me and the kids to do this, and I think it still is, I’ll be here.”
Grant’s new field was supposed to be named in Alberghini’s honor, but active district employees cannot have facilities named after them. Alberghini has retired as a full-time teacher, but he still teaches one class.
Alberghini, who said his players make him feel young, marvels at how Grant, with a diversity that matches the community, represents the real world. The roster includes Polynesians, African Americans, Latinos, Caucasians and Asian Americans. The coaching staff includes Devan Cunningham, Carl Reed, Toshan Starks and Syd Thompson, former Pacers stars who have returned to work with kids they can relate to.
“So many players are cousins, younger brothers, sons or nephews of those who played here before,” Alberghini said.
Brothers Darrin and Darryl Paulo are on scholarship at Utah and Washington State, respectively. Puka Lopa is at Cal. Devontae Booker is a Heisman Trophy candidate at Utah. Shaq Thompson, kid brother to Syd, is a rookie with the Carolina Panthers after being drafted in the first round.
This year’s team features more recruits, including running backs Deshawn Collins and Mike Green, defensive back Elijah Orr and linebacker David Moala. And recruiters are intrigued with the size and mobility of the starting offensive line of Jordan Lagaaia (6-foot-3, 320 pounds), Darryel Abraham (6-2, 303), Julio Marquez (6-3, 330), Soape Tupou (6-4, 335) and Orlando Umana (6-4, 320).
“The linemen are always the best kids,” Alberghini said. “They don’t have ‘I’ in any part of their vocabulary when it comes to sports. They give you great effort, and you win games in the trenches.”
Alberghini always tries to teach his players, and he found another opportunity Saturday in a scrimmage at Rocklin.
Grant players danced on the Rocklin logo before kickoff, stirring emotions. Later, after a hard hit, the teams got into it on the field. With both teams taking a knee at midfield, Alberghini held court. He had everyone’s attention. He apologized for the pre-scrimmage actions of his players and insisted the scrimmage continue without incident. It did.
“It got a little crazy, but there was also a great teaching thing, too,” Alberghini said. “We can learn from it. That’s what this is all about: getting better.”