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A Band of brothers, Oak Ridge football bond runs heavy

By: Nick Pecoraro Telegraph Correspondent
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When the members of this year’s Oak Ridge football team look back on their 2012 season, some may remember the vacancy of a section championship in the school trophy case. There’s little doubt, however, that everyone will be brimming rich with memories over the bonds and friendships born within the trenches this season.

After Friday night’s 35-23 loss to Granite Bay in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game, head coach Eric Cavaliere told his team that he wasn’t upset with what read on the scoreboard. What he was most disappointed with, rather, was the fact that he would not get the chance to return to practice with his team on Monday.

“This is the best football team that I’ve coached in a very long time,” he said. “It isn’t because of talent or anything like that, it’s because of the brotherhood that these guys have formed playing for each other.”

After each coach spoke, the junior players lined up to form a tunnel for the seniors, who took a slow, emotional walk, congratulating each other on what was an incredible experience this season. Hugs and handshakes were exchanged and inevitable tears were shed.

Jacob Proul, a 6’2, 275-pound man lineman, was among those who couldn’t help but be choked up by the significance of the moment. It took Proul only one word to describe how he will remember this team.

“Brotherhood,” he said. “One-hundred percent. Ain’t nothing like it. I remember the beginning. Everybody said, ‘you’re going 5-5’ and we said ‘no’. We showed it and came together. No doubt about it. I’ve been on a lot of teams, and there have been none like this one.”

A handful of Trojan seniors remained on the field at Sacramento State well after the crowd had left the stadium, taking in what would be the last time they would share a football field in an Oak Ridge uniform together.

“We have a bond like nothing else. We’re family and we all love each other. This is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” said senior receiver Byron Spain. “We knew from day one on our very first practice that we had something special. We brought each other in. There were no junior or senior classes. We were all one.”

“I’ve never been on a more fun team. These guys are my best friends and they will continue to be for years to come. Ill never forget this season,” said co-captain Kareem Ballal, who anchored both the offensive and defensive lines for the Trojans.

Oak Ridge began its 2012 campaign predicted by some to win no more than five games. As the year developed, the Trojans’ only regular season loss came at the hands of the eventual D-II section champion and Delta River League rival Folsom Bulldogs. The Trojans finished at 12-2 while landing themselves in their eighth section title game in school history (the first at the D-I level).

“It’s respect. It’s unity. It’s commitment to each other. It’s trust. It’s all those building blocks that we’ve worked on as a program,” said Cavaliere. “We knew what we had in spring football. There was a certain excitement about this team. It wasn’t about how good we were going to be, it was just about a good group of guys that really want to play for each other. We could have finished this season 2-8 or 12-2 and I’d be saying the same thing about this group of kids.”