It's the story of the year, the Grant Pacers on the field and off of it.
On the field, it's a well chronicled tale. The Pacers are top ranked in the valley, top ranked in the state and nationally ranked third with a combination of size, power, speed, skill, ferocity and determination - and backed by a fervent community.
But it's off the field where we really learn about the Pacers. Off the field and into Sutter Memorial Hospital this week, room 679, where little Camilo Graniel sits anxiously on his bed, IV's and tubes hooked to him.
He is 8 years old, shy, sweet, uneasy in a hospital setting like anyone his age would be. He's had four heart surgeries, the latest coming Monday to repair a valve. His salvation has been with the support of his parents - Jennifer and Richard, a 1987 Grant graduate, and the football Pacers. He went home this afternoon, and his parents took a box load of Grant gear with them to transfer the Pacers shrine to their south Sacramento home: team photos, a jersey, a team cap on his bed.
Graniel's wish was to meet the Grant Pacers. He had seen them in person, awed by their skill. When word reached the Del Paso Heights community, the football team invited the third grade student to come by. And then they took him into their family and made him a Pacer. Graniel was a locker-room guest of the Pacers last Friday against Merced.
Players were so moved by Graniel's spirit, they inked his name onto their helmets - and then they routed the Merced Bears 55-7.
Throughout this week, Grant players and coaches stopped by Sutter to visit, offer encouragement and team updates. On Thursday, Shaq Thompson and James Sample came by. Graniel handed them drawings he made, with Grant colors of course. I stopped by with 12-year old son Cameron. We presented Graniel with a Bee photo calendar that featured action shots of his beloved Pacers.
Graniel, in pain with an 8-inch incision snaking down his chest, was moved to tears when his mother thumbed through the calendar and when the Grant stars autographed photos.
We use "heroes" too loosely. It fits perfectly here. Shaq and Sample are heroes to Graniel - and the admiration goes both ways. Graniel doesn't even go to the bathroom without taking Shaq's gloves with him.
"We're touched that he follows us and we want him to know we care about him just as much," Shaq said. "We're dedicating all of our touchdowns to him this year."
Said the boy's father, "What these guys have done for my son, I can't express. Great kids. Too many people have this perception that Grant is a bad place and Grant has bad kids, and that's just not true. Look at these players here now."
Richard is right. Anyone who really knows the Pacers, has been to games, on campus, to their homes, knows the truth. It's a community and a school - and kids - unlike no other in the region. Placer High found out earlier this season. The Hillmen gleefully accepted an invitation by the Grant community to come to a Grant home game, guests of honor with a barbeque treat and a campus tour. You can't get any more opposite than Auburn and the hills and Del Paso Heights and the endless pavement, but the image of the Grant players mingling as one with the Placer players is priceless.
Grant community and school administrators agreed with those from Placer - the trip was educational well beyond touchdowns in knocking down barriers and perceptions.
Summarized Grant coach Mike Alberghini, "The best part of our best players is they're great human beings. They're great kids at school, in the community. And like (Graniel), our players know that family is the most important thing."
I have a story on this in Saturday's Bee.
The video provided here is by JOCK - Junior Observer Cameron, Know-it-all. He captured it beautifully here...