The big toothy grins are warm and sincere. They belong to Kyron Basped and Lonny Powell, and those smiles come easily now.
Best friends since their youth football days, the Sacramento High School seniors have grown up together. They share each other’s triumphs and despair. They pull for each other and they push one another, brothers competing for a cause.
Basped and Powell have been paramount for the Dragons as versatile, every-down players who stared down long odds. Good students, polite, well-spoken and hardened by challenges, some of which no teenager should ever endure,
They revel in their bright futures. Both will play football on scholarship in the Bay Area. More pressing is their quest to help Sacramento continue its historic run. Fresh off the first road playoff win in the program’s history, the Dragons (10-2) brace for top-seeded Inderkum (11-1) in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinal Friday night.
“Two tough dudes, two great dudes, two great teammates,” is how Sacramento quarterback Caden Voges described Basped and Powell. “So grateful to have them on our side. If I played against them, I’d be pretty nervous.”
Sacramento coach Paul Doherty, in constant motion during practice, stopped to reflect on his leaders. He said Basped and Powell are the reasons he’s happy to be coaching at Sacramento, having turned down job offers at other schools that don’t have the same budgetary concerns and meager facilities that make coaching the Dragons a challenge.
Doherty said Powell, a linebacker and fullback, is defined by his selfless nature and “ferocious play.” More of a punishing blocker, Powell has rushed for 490 yards on just 55 carries with five touchdowns. At 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, he’s also an efficient receiver with deceptive speed. Nine of his 18 receptions have gone for touchdowns. Headed to Cal to play defense, Powell leads the section with 22 sacks.
“Any other school and Lonny would be setting section rushing records – he’s that good,” Doherty said. “He’s incredibly unselfish, and his complete indifference towards statistical accomplishments has allowed me to develop a slew of younger players on offense.”
Discussing Basped‘s plight, Doherty grew emotional. Not only has the 6-1, 195-pound receiver, cornerback and special-teams star impressed his coaches and teammates with his work ethic and skill, he’s inspired them with his mettle after a troubled upbringing.
There were stretches in his life when Basped wondered where his next meal would come from, if he would have a bed to crash on, a shower to use. More than once, Basped took up shelter where rats and stray cats were more at home. At times alone and homeless, he used cardboard to keep the rain off him. Damp and dirty clothes made for a pillow.
Having lost track of Basped for a spell two years ago, Doherty drove through the streets of Oak Park, peering down alleys and into boarded-up houses. He found Basped sleeping under a Highway 99 overpass on a makeshift bed. There was nothing to smile about in those days for Basped. Only anguish and tears covered his face. Doherty shared his sadness with Basped, then helped him find structure and a path to success.
“Kyron was destined to fail, had every reason to fail, but he’s the most mature kid, special, and he refused to fail,” Doherty said.
Now living in Rocklin with Sacramento assistant coach Brent Lane, Basped said his life feels “so much more normal.” Having gone from sleeping under an overpass to being rewarded with a scholarship to San Jose State, Basped said “this will be a special Thanksgiving.”
“Kyron’s experienced some of the worst things our community has to offer, face to face with the reality of a street life,” Doherty said. “Those experiences have molded him into the most driven individual I’ve ever coached. Much of his motivation is fear-driven, to escape his circumstances, and his response to what he’s experienced is a work ethic of sheer ferocity. He’ll make it. So will Lonny. They’ll both do great.”
Basped lived with a youth coach, Ben Cortez, for the better part of three years before high school. He then shuttled from house to house with family and friends in Oak Park as a freshman and sophomore. It’s been just more than a year since Lane and his family took him into their Placer County home. There is structure and discipline.
“I’ve had such a good year in school and in football, and I owe the Lane family so much,” said Basped, who has 54 receptions for 1,038 yards and 12 touchdowns and also is the kicker. “They were so nice to take me in when I really needed it. They saved me. It really changed my focus and view on life. I’m doing so much better in school. I have time for homework. I feel like a family. I feel like I have a future.”
Said Lane, “Kyron was in need. We wanted to help. Just a great kid. It’s so neat to see him flourish, to do well.”
Basped has a giving heart and wants to include his biological family in his life, particularly during a holiday week like this one. Basped said he doesn’t see his mother often. He does run into his father, a regular at Sac High games.
“I’ve had some low times,” Basped said. “Very low, things you never want others to go through. I grew up faster than I needed to or wanted to, but I survived. I was determined. I’ve had talks with my dad. He tries to be supportive. He can’t really help me that much right now. He’s told me that he has regrets, that he wishes he could’ve taken care of me. I want to have a relationship with him.
“I just know that without school, without teammates and guys like Lonny Powell, without my coaches, I would’ve been really lost. So I am really thankful and happy.”
Powell didn’t endure near the hardship of his pal. But it’s not easy growing up in a house with seven siblings, with different moms, with every meal treasured. Powell also agonized over Basped, wondering what more he could do to help.
Family matters so much to Powell and Basped that they view their football team as an extension of siblings and father figures. Basped and Powell spend the most time with teammates, share the most dreams with. And they bicker. Brothers always bicker. Basped and Powell have poured out their emotions during team dinners where players stand and speak from the heart.
At the end of each practice, the Dragons take a knee. Coaches go over that day’s work and what lies ahead. Powell then leads the team prayer, always ending with a team chant of “Family!”
“I do anything I can to help this team, any position, being a leader,” Powell said. “When I block on a play, I make that block as if it’s the last block of the season, for the championship. I do the same when I run the ball or go after a quarterback. I have to play that way.”
Basped said he gives his all to his coaches in return for what they gave him: hope. Doherty and Lane helped Basped gain an identity beyond his No. 4 jersey.
“We got him a driver’s license, a Social Security number, a birth certificate,” Doherty said. “He had nothing. Now he’s somebody.”
Said Voges, the quarterback: “Opportunities have opened up for Kyron, and that’s why you can see he’s so happy. Right away, you could see a difference in him when he moved in with coach Lane. He added about 20 pounds. He was more into school, into football. He had more energy, a happier attitude.”
And Powell on Basped: “I always worried about Kryon when we lost track of him. I wanted him safe. He’s strong, strong-minded. He never went out of character. He didn’t come from much, but he has so much to offer. I’m so proud of him.”
Basped said he dreams of graduating from college and working in sports medicine or perhaps counseling or coaching. Anything “to help others,” he said.
Powell said he wants to major in business and be an entrepreneur of sorts.
“I love money and the things you can do with it,” Powell said. “I would start youth sports programs, travel teams for basketball and football. I’d give back to communities like this. I know what sports did for me and for Kyron.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.