Grant Football Co-Coaches Reed & Thompson Orchestrated A Full Program Revival And Redefined Its Long Used Motto: #Pacer4Life •
PICTURED ABOVE: Grant Co-Coach Syd’Quan Thompson Holds Up The 3-AA State Bowl Championship Trophy With Fellow Coach Carl Reed Looking On. (David Gershon photo)
If you’ve played a down for Grant Football, you are a #Pacer4Life.
It seems simple enough. But for co-head coaches Carl Reed and Syd’Quan Thompson, it’s more than just a slogan or hashtag for Sacramento’s Grant Union High School.
“It’s way more than a slogan,” said Reed. “It’s a belief.”
That belief—in the players, in themselves and in the mission of the program—led to a 12-2 record and Sac-Joaquin Section and CIF State Football Championships that earned the co-head coaches the SportStars Coaches of the Year honors.
Grant sitting atop the football world in December 2022 was nothing new as the Pacers boasted seven previous section banners as well as being the first CIF State Open Division Champions (the Pacers defeated Long Beach Poly, 25-20, in 2008). But getting back to the top was no small task.
Just two seasons ago, Reed took over the head coaching duties after longtime coach Mike Alberghini retired, and the Pacers posted an 0-9 mark that extended the program’s longest losing streak to 17 games. Change was definitely needed to return Grant football to relevance, so Reed sought answers from his players and alumni.
The head coach conducted exit interviews with players and met with coaches in December 2021 that resulted in the decision to bring on Thompson as co-head coach and forge a new beginning.
“We asked ourselves ‘How can we change things with our opportunity?’,” Thompson said of he and Reed’s early discussions. “We brought the kids in and addressed goals and challenges. But it wasn’t just about football. We had bigger challenges that needed to be addressed for the team to improve.”
Historically, Grant football has faced more challenges and bigger obstacles than those faced by many other area schools. Academic eligibility, housing, nutrition, and safety are greater concerns at Grant than at the majority of the schools the Pacers compete against.
“We had lost kids to grades in the past and some kids might be getting their only food at school,” Reed said of the challenges he has seen as a student, teacher, administrator, and coach on the campus in Del Paso Heights. “Our biggest success is not on the football field, it’s preparing these kids for school and life.”
“Those victories are big. It’s great to have an Alani Noa (a USC commit), but it’s even better when we can have others with offers and getting help with continuing their education to be prepared for life.”
Reed and Thompson sought to build relationships and bonds with the 2022 team to help them succeed in life first and then on the football field. Having mentors on the coaching staff that have experienced life and football at Grant—almost every Grant football coaching staff member is an alum—paid dividends on the field and in the classroom this season and every Pacers coach hopes that success will carry on well beyond one magical season.
How magical the season could be did not completely dawn on Reed and Thompson until the playoffs. Despite outscoring their first four Metropolitan League opponents, 264-22, the coaches knew that league powerhouse Monterey Trail would be the true test of their team’s abilities. While many observers expected the Pacers to be exposed by the Mustangs, Grant stood firm and lost a 49-42 shootout that opened a lot of eyes, including Reed’s.
“That game came down to who had the ball last,” Reed said. “We lost the game, but right then everyone knew that something was brewing there.”
After a 56-21 victory over Laguna Creek to conclude the regular season, the Pacers shined in the playoffs. Grant’s high-powered offense, led by quarterback Joseph “JoJo” McCray and wide receiver Kyrell Goss-Pruitt, hit its stride as Grant captured the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title and the CIF State Bowl Division 3-AA Championship.
What started as a change in the structure of the coaching staff and philosophy ended in the ultimate turnaround for a storied program.
“After 0-9, we said that we never wanted to feel that again,” Reed said. “We changed the structure of the program and that was the match. That made the difference.”
And that difference is something that Reed and Thompson believe can translate beyond the football field with their help.
“We have kids that deal with the reality of life,” Thompson said. “From Day One, we let them know that we have their backs and that we are going to be here for them.”
Thompson has an exceptional football acumen and a deep understanding of the unique challenges and responsibilities of being a #Pacer4Life. The 2005 graduate was a two-way standout that experienced the pressure and pleasure of wearing the No. 1 at Grant before accepting a football scholarship to Cal and being drafted by the Denver Broncos. He and younger brother, Shaq Thompson (a veteran linebacker on the Carolina Panthers) were raised by their mother, Patrice, in Del Paso Heights.
In short, he embodies #Pacer4Life. And, in step with Reed and the rest of the Grant Pacers coaching staff, they instilled the belief behind the #Pacer4Life mantra that made them more than just SportStars Coaches of the Year.