The words “eleven,” “brotherhood” and “all-in” were written on the board as the Buhach Colony High School football team tried to decide what it would write on the sledge hammer before the start of the season.
It was a tradition started by former Thunder coach Kevin Swartwood to serve as an extra source of motivation. “Foundation,” “redemption” and “family” are past examples.
“We’ve always told them they can pick any word they want, but the word will only be powerful as the meaning behind it,” said Buhach Colony coach Kevin Navarra.
At some point during the selection process, senior Alex Andrade suggested the word “David.”
As Andrade remembers it, as soon as he suggested David, it was as if all the other words on the board flew out the window. This year’s word had to be David.
“We were considering a lot of words,” Andrade said. “Then it just came to me. David. It had a double meaning for our team as well. Not only would we be honoring David (Giron), but there’s also the David and Goliath story as well. We know not a lot is expected from our team. We haven’t made the playoffs in a while. We were going to be facing a lot of Goliaths this season.”
The main reason the Thunder players chose David was because of Giron, who played with almost all the seniors when they were freshmen.
“He was a guy who didn’t say much,” Andrade said. “He wasn’t an outstanding athlete. He just did his job. He did his part and he didn’t complain.”
Giron went to Texas during winter break in 2013 and was killed in an auto crash.
His teammates took the news hard. The school did, too.
“I consider every teammate I have a brother and having a brother pass on, that’s something nobody should have to go through,” Andrade said. “Some of our guys have known him since kindergarten. David was the ideal player, the ideal type of person.”
Giron, a quiet kid who wasn’t a star the field, had a significant impact on everyone around him.
Senior Pardeep Dhillon lived near Giron and they often played basketball in front of his house.
“It’s crazy that a guy like that could affect our community, team and whole school,” Dhillon said. “When we first brought up the idea of David as our word, the younger guys didn’t know him. So Alex and I talked about him and we talked about the story of David vs. Goliath. Right away we knew that was the right word.
“We say his name when we break at the beginning of practice and at the end of practice. Some days, when we’re sluggish, we’ll remind ourselves about David and how we’re out here for him.”
Before each game, the captains carry out Giron’s No. 85 jersey to the coin toss and the jersey remains on the sideline during the game. The players and coaches also wear bands on their wrist with David printed on it.
“Listening to Alex and Pardeep and the amount of emotion they had and the way they described their former teammate, you could tell what he meant to them,” Navarra said.
Andrade said he thinks about Giron every day. His death has changed Andrade’s perspective on life at a young age.
“We try to live by it. It has been pushing us every single day,” Andrade said. “Even when we’re in the weight room early in the morning, it’s become a big thing. Honestly, I’m glad because he deserves it. I know there are times I’m in the weight room when I’d rather be home sleeping. But then I think about other people like David, who can’t be here right now. That pushes me.
“I feel blessed to wake up every morning with both arms and both legs. I want to live every day and I don’t want to take it for granted. Sometimes I remind myself to do it for him.”
The Thunder (4-3, 2-1 Central California Conference) can use any extra motivation it can find as it fights for its playoff life. The Thunder heads to Turlock on Friday for a big matchup against Pitman (6-0, 2-0) at Joe Debely Stadium.
Buhach Colony will likely need to upset Pitman or Merced next week to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
“Wins and losses come and go,” Dhillon said. “The best way we can honor David is knowing that we left everything on field. We don’t want to take anything for granted. For a lot of us, this will be our last year. It would have been David’s last year. We want to honor him the best we can.”