Video: Honoring J.J. ClavoSacramento team and community honors player killed by gunfire before playoff game.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. —
With a 35-0 home victory over Beyer (Modesto) on Monday night, Grant (Sacramento)
football coach Mike Alberghini captured his 262nd game to become the winningest large-division coach in Sac-Joaquin Section history.
There was a loud, sellout Pacer crowd on this crisp night. Giant blue and gold posters waved, a half-dozen balloon releases filled the clear sky and those in attendance exchanged countless long and hearty embraces.
Afterward, Alberghini was sandwiched in the middle of the field amongst players, fans, students, alumni and well-wishers in a giant Pacers group hug. There were few dry eyes but numerous bloodshot ones, including those of Alberghini.
This wasn't a celebration of a historic victory, but instead a tribute to a life that was lost.
On Friday night, three hours before the originally scheduled SJS Division II game between Grant and Beyer, Pacers cornerback Jaulon Clavo
— better known as JJ — was shot in the neck and killed by unknown and still at-large assailants while driving back to school from a food run.
Three other Grant players were in the car and one of them — senior
— was struck in the arm. He escaped with minor injuries, but Clavo, a 17-year-old with a penchant for fun, laughter and playing football, died shortly after the attack.
Following three days of grieving, the Pacers took the gridiron Monday, escorted by his mother Nicole and surrounded by more than 300 players from at least a dozen other Sacramento-area schools who united shoulder-to-shoulder around half the field.
They paid tribute to Clavo and the Pacers, along with the Grant community. And they were taking a stand against senseless violence, something that sports and extracurricular activities are supposed to curb.
In this case, Clavo and his friends were simply on the wrong street at the wrong time, and he paid the ultimate price.
"Coming to school this morning was tough," said good friend and senior linebacker Elijah Orr
. "This whole weekend, since Friday I was crying. Couldn't sleep. Hardly ate. I'm proud of my team for coming out and playing like we did because I know we were down.
"Before the game, I told the team to be strong. That's what JJ would want. We're going to win the state for him. It started today."
Grant (10-1), the top seed and one of Northern California's most successful programs, certainly has a chance to do it. They've won 16 league and seven section titles under Alberghini since 1991. And they've made the playoffs 24 consecutive years, an ongoing SJS record.
But the focus on this day was to get through it. Honor Clavo and his mother. Deshaw Collins
and Mike Green II
did so Monday by combining for more than 200 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
"We played great in the first half and terrible in the second," Alberghini said. "But that figured. The kids, the coaching staff are emotionally spent. … At this point it's one day at a time. We have a very good opponent ahead (Granite Bay) and had a good one tonight. It's up to us to keep the kids playing and everyone healthy and safe."
Alberghini said he was overwhelmed to see the support of so many local players and teams. Especially for a 5 p.m. start on a Monday, when most teams needed to practice for upcoming playoff games.
Teams like Rocklin (Calif.)
, which bussed its entire 62-man roster to the game, the same Rocklin squad that scrimmaged and skirmished with Grant in August.
"Boys will be boys and we were hitting on each other pretty good then," Rocklin defensive coordinator Jason Adams said. "But this is much bigger than all of that. Being here was much more important. This is bigger than wins and losses. We're here to just let these guys know that we're thinking about them."
Said Orr: "I have mad respect for all the teams that came out."
Said Alberghini: "This shows what sports is all about. You compete as hard as you can, but you respect your opponent. Their respect for us will never be forgotten."
Clavo's mom said her son was nothing but a competitor, whose passion for football was surpassed only by his thirst for life and laughter.
"He always had something to say," Nicole said, noting she read ‘about a thousand Facebook posts' over the weekend. "So many talked about his jovial ways, that he was the clown in the class. All in a good way. He was a fun, happy, kid."
But also very serious about his football.
"He went into every game thinking they would win," she said. "He never thought he would lose.
"He was always excited, focused, always ready to give his 100 percent. This has always been his passion. No matter how many other games I tried to get him involved in, football was his passion. This is where he excelled. This is where his dreams and aspirations were derived from."
And where they'll continue to live amongst the Pacers, Alberghini said.
"JJ will live in our locker room and our hearts forever," he said. "JJ has that beautiful smile and it's flashing right now."