Morgan Boyle, Merced College’s most ardent football supporter, showed up to football practice last Monday not knowing what to expect after the team lost at Foothill College on Sept. 11.
Boyle, who has cerebral palsy and is wheelchair-bound, has shared the program’s ups and downs for 16 years. He knew better than to guess what head coach Justin Pinasco’s mood might be.
But at practice’s end, Pinasco called out to Boyle, and the Blue Devils immediately came alive, whooping and hollering at their football brother. Pinasco told everyone he was tired of seeing Boyle in old Merced College gear. He then gifted Boyle a new uniform—road and home jerseys, pants, a helmet, all bearing the No. 1.
“We appreciate you, Morgan.”
“You deserve it, baby.”
The players shouted their approval and then circled around to give him enthusiastic daps and high fives, the weight of a difficult loss lifted.
“We needed something to rally behind,” said Pinasco, in his first year as head coach for the Blue Devils, who later beat Los Medanos on Sept. 18. “And this is bigger than all of us. We see all of the things Morgan handles and he still shows up. … I think it’s great that our players learn that through him.”
How did Boyle feel receiving the new uniform?
“Honored, overjoyed,” said Morgan, through his father, Dennis Boyle.
Morgan, now 28, came to be part of the team in 2006 when his father, after a total knee replacement, took walking and swimming classes at Merced College to regain mobility. The Boyles were at the Stadium ’76 track one day when they stopped to watch football practice. Several Blue Devils chatted them up.
Then 12-year-old Morgan was awed and hooked. He would never play football, but he would live it. When he wanted to be a Blue Devil for Halloween, Dennis asked Pinasco, then in charge of equipment, for an old practice jersey. Pinasco answered with a game jersey and helmet. Morgan began attending games.
“Morgan told me, and I shared it with (then-coach) Tony Lewis, that it was OK that he can never walk, because he has the Blue Devils to run for him,” Dennis said.
Boyle shows up for his Devils, just like they came through when the Boyles suffered a devastating house fire in 2019.
“They helped us with cleanup,” Dennis said. “They showed up as family.”
Morgan Boyle regularly attends practices and games. He is listed in the official program. He is on the field for the pregame huddle before taking his seat in the stands. Then he and Dennis go back down for the final 4-5 minutes and the postgame debrief.
He wants to get as close to his team as possible.
“I run with my players,” Morgan Boyle said. “When they tackle someone, I’m right there with them.”
Sophomore offensive lineman Hector Velazco said Morgan’s energy fuels the Blue Devils.
“There’s never a day where we don’t hear him go ‘Oh yeaaaah!’ in the huddle because he is so pumped for us to play,” Velazco said. “He’s the heart of our team.”
Morgan has the Blue Devil trident and his old jersey number (12) tattooed on his left forearm. His new jerseys are No. 1s. Either way his place in this universe remains secure: He’s Merced College football’s 12th man, and the Blue Devils’ No. 1 fan.
Boyle was finishing an interview last week when his father reminded him, “Hey, Coach is headed this way. [You’re] about to get chewed out.”
“He missed practice on Wednesday,” Dennis explained.
Team membership has its privileges and its consequences. Yes, Pinasco has also been on Morgan’s case since 2006.
“I treat him like a player,” the coach said.
Morgan wouldn’t have it any other way.