Justin Hess doesn't say much on the football field. He saves his words for speeches and debates.
Hess is the president of the speech and debate team at Corona del Mar High. When he's not behind a microphone, Hess lines up on the football field where there's a lot said, much of it not suitable for this story.
Hess plays on the defensive line. Whenever a lineman registers a sack, most of the time he will have a word or two for the quarterback.
Not Hess, though. Coach Scott Meyer said a smile is all you will get from his 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior. Hess wore a big grin last week after he made the defensive play of the game in the Battle of the Bay rivalry against host Newport Harbor.
All evening, Hess pursued quarterback Cole Norris. He got to him once in the second quarter, sharing a sack. On the Sailors' final drive of the game, Hess dropped Norris twice. Once for a one-yard loss with about five minutes left. Almost two minutes later, on fourth-and-nine, Hess blindsided Norris. He grabbed Norris' right wrist and pulled it down, forcing a fumble near CdM's 30-yard line with 3:05 to go.
Hess' four-yard sack ensured the Sea Kings' 28-18 victory in front of 5,000 raucous fans at Davidson Field. What motivated Hess to make the game-clinching play in the 53rd meeting between the two schools was what happened in the game two years ago on the same field.
Hess didn't get to play against Newport Harbor as a sophomore. He suffered a concussion in practice, forcing him to watch the game from the sideline.
"That game I remember perfectly, even though I wasn't playing," Hess said. "It was a big loss."
The same quarterback who tried to rally the Sailors last week pulled off the comeback against CdM two years ago.
Back then, Norris, in his first varsity start, did the unthinkable. He engineered a 17-play, 95-yard scoring drive. He capped it off with a 22-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal with 24 seconds to lift the Sailors to a 27-26 win.
"A lot of us were starting as sophomores," Hess said. "We all remember watching the seniors' faces in those moments. We were like, 'We can't let this happen again.'"
Hess and the Sea Kings haven't let the Sailors beat them since that setback two years ago. Since losing to Newport Harbor and Capistrano Valley in consecutive weeks early during the 2012 season, CdM has won 30 straight games.
The team's defense, especially the front four, has played a vital role to CdM producing the state's best active winning streak. Hess and Mat Flores create havoc inside, and Parker Chase and Harrison Carter apply pressure off the edge.
The foursome harassed Norris, sacking him five times. All four seniors almost had a hand in each sack, Hess finished with 2 1/2 sacks, Chase with three and Flores with 1 1/2. The defensive line helped CdM top its archrivals in consecutive seasons for the first time in 26 years. The Sea Kings' previous winning streak against Newport Harbor ran from 1985-88.
The streak happened to end in 1989, when another Hess went to CdM. Tom Hess, Justin's uncle, wound up defeating the Sailors twice in the Battle of the Bay. Tom, a 1993 CdM graduate, was an all-around threat for the Sea Kings, scoring 193 points, a CdM career record. Tom doesn't talk about the mark.
"He's a very humble guy," said Justin, who's the 13th Hess to attend CdM.
A teammate of Justin is trying to break his uncle's record.
Cole Martin has 27 rushing touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns, giving him at 174 career points. Martin, a senior tailback, is out with an injured right knee, and the team expects him to miss as many as three more games.
The Sea Kings' next game without Martin is Friday at Tesoro (3-1) at 7 p.m. The matchup features the top-ranked teams from the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division (CdM) and West Valley Division (Tesoro).
The Sea Kings (4-0) will also be going up against a former teammate in Anthony Battista. The tailback transferred to Tesoro four months after CdM completed its historic 16-0 season in December.
The move surprised Hess. He learned of Battista's transfer through social media in April when Hess played baseball for the Sea Kings.
"I thought it was kind of a joke when I saw it on Facebook," said Hess, adding that he used to be close to Battista, who rushed for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns as a backup to Martin last season. "He's a great kid, but you got to do what you got to do.
"I was watching, like, [the rebroadcast of Tesoro's] game against Upland [on Prime Ticket a couple of weeks ago]. They have him catching balls. They have him running [the] ball. They have him doing all kinds of stuff."
It's up to Hess and the rest of CdM's defense to slow down Battista. Hess believes the Sea Kings are up for the challenge.
"It's probably one of the best … I [will have] ever played," Hess said of the contest against Tesoro, which went into the season ranked No. 29 in the state by CalHiSports.com, 18 spots higher than CdM. "I would've never dreamed of playing teams like Tesoro and this nonleague schedule, like, [three] years ago when I was a little freshman.
"I think it's a testament [to] how far our program has really come. We keep playing harder teams every single week. I think [the Titans are] a great football team. I think we can really get after them and prove ourselves again."
As he always does, Hess plans to let his play do the talking. There's no debating whether that works or not.
Two Ivy League schools, Cornell and Dartmouth, are showing interest in Hess. It makes sense. Hess tends to have his way with offensive linemen and a way with words.
Born: Aug. 7, 1996
Hometown: Newport Beach
Weight: 210 pounds
Coach: Scott Meyer
Favorite food: Quesadilla
Favorite movie: "The Lord of the Rings"
Favorite athletic moment: "[Recording] the last sack to end the [Battle of the Bay] game."