Royal Homecoming


It was a simple crossing route over the middle, about 15 yards. The pass was a tad high from the nervous sophomore quarterback, and savvy senior receiver Ron Palacios pulled it in for a first down.

Thus began John Elway's career at Granada Hills High.

The significance of the moment in 1976 against El Camino Real has grown over time for Palacios, but never has he relived it more often than this week.

Palacios, 39, is the offensive coordinator at Royal, the opponent Friday night in the first game at Granada Hills since the school's stadium was dedicated in Elway's name.

And Palacios' son, John, could throw the first touchdown pass because he plays quarterback for the Highlanders. The Royal--not Granada Hills--Highlanders.

"We share a nickname, and when we hear those Highlander bagpipes, it gets our blood going," Ron Palacios said.

Anything to do with Elway has long motivated Palacios. He named his son after the Denver Broncos quarterback, and as the boy learned the position, his father urged him to study the way Elway conducted business on the field.

"My dad always taught me to admire Elway, and by watching him, I've learned so much," John Palacios said. "This is a big game for me and my family.

"Ever since my dad told me we'd be playing in the first game at John Elway Stadium, I've dreamed about throwing a touchdown pass. But the main thing is I just want us to win."

What kind of play does the offensive coordinator have in mind?

"We scored our first touchdown last week with a little pop pass to the tight end," Ron Palacios said. "We could come up with something like that."

No coach worth his clipboard would give away his best play, so Granada Hills might want to double cover any receiver except the tight end.

Palacios doesn't pretend he can outfox Darryl Stroh, the Granada Hills co-coach who was an assistant when Palacios and Elway were a tandem.

"Stroh is the dean of discipline," Palacios said. "He's a Granada Hills legend right along with Elway."

Stroh, in turn, has a fond recollection of Palacios.

"He was a tough, gritty kid with a real competitive spirit," Stroh said. "Not very big, but he got the most out of the ability he had."

That Stroh returned to the Granada Hills coaching ranks after a five-year hiatus in time to share in the inaugural game at John Elway Stadium is meaningful to Highlander alumni.

"There are a lot of feelings back there," Palacios said. "Granada Hills is where I got started. There will be a lot of former Highlanders in the stands."

Part of the appeal is Elway's continued interest in his alma mater. He attended the stadium dedication ceremony last spring and invited many of his former Granada Hills teammates to his golf tournament in Denver in May.

Palacios attended and also played in a basketball game that pitted Elway's former Granada Hills teammates against his former Stanford teammates.

"Then John played one-on-one against all comers," Palacios said. "Nobody beat him."

Elway hasn't forgotten the former receiver who used to give him rides home from school before Elway got a driver's license. In 1994, he sent a note of congratulations when Palacios coached and his son quarterbacked a championship youth team.

"I've got all kinds of autographs and stuff in my room," said John Palacios, who has yet to meet Elway.

Regardless of whether John throws a touchdown pass, the family will place a video tape of the game on a shelf with one of highlights from the 1976 season. The older video--which includes that first reception against El Camino Real--still gets air time.

"I had all that eight-millimeter film transferred to VHS," Palacios said. "Those are great memories.

"And I hope we can make something memorable happen for Royal High on Friday night."


* BETWEEN THE LINES: Focus on high school football: C8

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