Hometown Report

Burbank football team rides roller coaster of emotions

Burbank assistant coach James Pale, left, talks to players before a game last October. Pale is seen as a father figure by Titans players, and the students in his classroom.
Burbank assistant coach James Pale, left, talks to players before a game last October. Pale is seen as a father figure by Titans players, and the students in his classroom. Sacramento Bee file

These are exciting yet anxious times at Burbank High School.

The Titans’ promising football season was dulled by an 0-3 start before hosting Johnson in a Metropolitan Conference opener at Burbank’s sparkling stadium in a twilight affair. The Titans rolled to a 62-6 victory.

Burbank’s star player is 6-foot-5, 245-pound defensive end D.J. Johnson, the most heavily recruited athlete in the history of the school, which opened on Florin Road in 1963. He has fielded more than 100 scholarship offers, from UCLA to Alabama to programs across the East. This is all the more noteworthy considering Johnson had no offers late in his junior year.

Johnson has verbally committed to Miami. On Tuesday afternoon in Burbank’s gym and in front of students, faculty and family, Johnson will be presented with an honorary game jersey to play in the prestigious Under Armour All-America Game on Jan. 1 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.

Inderkum tight end Josh Falo also has been invited to the game and will receive his jersey on Monday.

Hoping to attend the jersey presentation at Burbank is James Pale, who may draw a standing ovation if he does. The Titans alum is a beloved English teacher and assistant football coach at the school.

Pale suffered a heart attack Monday on campus. He had surgery at Mercy Hospital and is recovering nicely. He reports to be “doing much better.” Pale posted selfies from his hospital room, flashing a smile and a peace sign while surrounded by family.

From his hospital bed Friday, Pale was pulling for the Titans as much as the players were pulling for him. A bear of a man, Pale is a father figure to the Titans and to scores of students who parade through his classroom to discuss any number of topics.

“Everyone loves James,” said Burbank head coach and athletic director John Heffernan. “His recovery is going well. He is moving, walking around, talking, getting stronger every day.”

Coaches are a tight-knit fraternity. They speak the same language of expectations, frustrations, the joys and despair of fundraising, grade checks and triumphant bus rides home. And when one man goes down, coaches everywhere feel it.

Pale’s plight elicited a flood of response on social media. Heffernan’s cellphone has blown up with well wishers.

“Coaches, we’re very tight as a unit, like family, and we care about each other deeply,” said Monterey Trail coach T.J. Ewing, whose connection with Pale dates back 20 years. “James Pale is a great human being who has helped so many people.

“I was nervous for his family, for the people he provides for, who he loves, because this shook all of our world. But he’s OK, and he came out of it fine, and we’re all glad to hear that. The world is a better place with James in it.”

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