He can usually be found on Saturday nights, wreaking havoc on the football field at Hughes Stadium.
He’s not hard to find. At 6-foot-2, 235 pounds, he’s smack-dab in the middle of nearly every play, barking out orders to the defensive linemen in front of him to adjust their position, so he can shoot the gap and pounce on opposing running backs.
It would not be surprising to hear those running backs confess a bit of anxiety while staring across the line of scrimmage at No. 33 in the scarlet and gold jersey.
It is here that Terrance March is in his element.
March, a 19-year-old unrelenting sophomore middle linebacker, is the defensive captain for the Panthers’ football team. As a true freshman, he was tied for the team lead in forced fumbles, third in tackles-for-loss, fourth in sacks and fifth in overall tackling. His play led to an All-NorCal League selection in 2016.
“His overall talent is special,” says City’s defensive coordinator John Herlihy. “For me, he was one of the guys that I had to have. He’s physically as good as they get.”
March’s example on the field has helped City to a 5-0 start through mid-October. The last time City was unbeaten when the calendar flipped to October was in the late ’90s, when March was probably just learning to walk.
What drives March, however, is the memory of someone he’d been close to since those early days.
Throughout elementary school, March could always be found next to Lamar Tsimba McCants, a relative through his mother’s side of the family. Though McCants was slightly older than March, they did everything together.
During his senior year at Natomas High School, March received news that tackled him harder than any hit he could have delivered on the gridiron. On April 20, 2015, McCants — known to March as “Leem” — was relaxing on his front porch when a car pulled up and opened fire on his house. He was 18 and had been shot twice in the chest before the car drove off.
“He was like a brother to me,” said March. “He tried to make it inside. By the time he got inside, all he could say was, ‘I love you,’ to his grandma. That was it. He died right there.”
After hearing of Leem’s passing during a break between classes, March says he held his emotions in check for the remainder of the school day. But when he got home, it was a different story.
“I just tried not to show it during school,” says March. “But after school and practice, I just got home, and all I could do was break down and think about it.”
March speculates that it could have been gang-related. Although McCants had no gang affiliation, March says he may have just been too close to the wrong people.
“He was a good person,” says March. “He was always around, guiding me and keeping me out of trouble, making sure I’m still in school, handling my business, staying away from bad influences.”
McCants’ influence on March hasn’t faded away; it’s been a powerful motivation. He doesn’t dwell on the sorrow of his family’s loss — in his mind, there’s no point. March is a firm believer in karma.
“I’m more of an optimistic, cup half-full type of guy,” he says. “If you stay negative, negative things happen. If you stay positive, positive things will happen.”
Instead, he channels his emotions and energy on the football field. Herlihy says that despite outside distractions, March’s presence on the team is infectious.
“From a locker room standpoint, he’s a guy that you always gravitate toward,” said Herlihy. “Regardless of what’s going on in life, this is kind of his sanctuary, where he can come and do what he loves to do. It’s an opportunity to do things different in life.”
March has come into his own in 2017, leading the Panthers with 43 tackles (over 8.5 per game) after the team’s first five games. Head coach Dannie Walker foresees immediate success for his captain after City College, as personnel from various four-year football programs have begun to take interest.
“This is just a stopping point,” says Walker. “The respect that he has from his peers, I think that’s huge in this day and age. If you have respect from your peers, you’re naturally going to be able to lead and have guys buy in. He’s really just touching the surface of what he’s going to be.”
It’s been more than two years since McCants’ passing and March still pays homage to his fallen brother.
On gamedays, March finds a Sharpie and writes “LEEM” on the athletic tape wrapping around his wrists, as he wraps up opposing ball-carriers. He’ll also write the name on the towel that drapes down the back of his football pants, almost as if Leem is there to have his back each Saturday night.
“I try to let him come out through me,” says March. “You could say I just try to put on for him and make sure he’s not forgotten.”