Laguna Hills High School nose guard Greg DeFelice will never forget the first time he met Marty Spalding, his defensive line coach.
Spalding moved to Laguna Hills this season after helping to produce about 30 Division I college players at El Toro High School.
DeFelice was a two-year starter who had gained a reputation for his fine play.
DeFelice extended his hand to Spalding and said, "I'm Greg DeFelice, nose guard."
Spalding, 6 feet 4, took one look at the 5-6, 155-pound DeFelice and said, "No you're not."
This wasn't a case of mistaken identity but rather the beginning of the "Spalding-DeFelice Mutual Admiration Club."
DeFelice, whose intensity far outweighs his size, blossomed into an All-Pacific Coast League defender under Spalding's fiery style of coaching.
"I didn't know Coach Spalding, his son (Scott, a starter at UCLA) or anything that he had done at El Toro," DeFelice said. "But before he got here, Coach (Steve) Bresnahan told me, 'You're going to like this guy, he's very intense.'
"Since then, he's helped me to become a better player. We feed off each other. When I'm playing, I want to do my best because Coach Spalding makes me feel so good afterward. Everyone on the team feels that way."
DeFelice started out as a wide receiver at Laguna Hills but moved to the other side of the line midway through his junior season.
"Nose guard is a position that seems to fit Greg's personality," Bresnahan said. "As a wide receiver, he used to get frustrated when he didn't get enough contact. He loves to hit."
DeFelice has combined strength and quickness with intelligence and preparation to become an effective lineman despite being outweighed 30 or 40 pounds by most opponents.
"There are so many little things that go into playing the game that most people never see," he said. "I love the mixture of the thought and preparation that goes into playing a physically violent game."
The sport is a stark contrast from DeFelice's academic world at Laguna Hills, where he ranks 10th in his class with a 4.41 grade-point average. He has applied to some of the nation's top universities--Duke, Stanford, Tulane, Vanderbilt, Northwestern and UCLA--and plans to major in business.
"Greg is so focused when he plays or practices, and he's just as intense in the classroom," Laguna Hills Principal Wayne Mickaelian said. "He obviously comes from a good family network. It shows in the way he communicates and handles himself."
DeFelice will play his final high school game Friday night, when Laguna Hills plays host to Pacific Coast League rival Trabuco Hills in the Division VII championship game at Mission Viejo High.
DeFelice has played for fun and competition, and he has no false hopes of gaining a college scholarship. He said playing Trabuco Hills in the title game is the perfect ending to his high school football career.
"You couldn't have written a better script," he said. "If I could pick one team to play in the championship game, it would be Trabuco Hills. I have a lot of respect for them and I know they have a lot of respect for us. It's going to be a war."
Their regular-season meeting Oct. 25 was nearly over before it began. Trabuco Hills scored two touchdowns in the opening three minutes and went on to a 34-21 victory. What did DeFelice learn in the first meeting?
"Coach (Jim) Barnett (of Trabuco Hills) is a real good coach," DeFelice said. "He took advantage of some of our weaknesses and got us down real quick. They have a good offensive line. I only got one hit on (quarterback Pat) Barnes, and we didn't get much pressure on him."
Three weeks later, DeFelice said Laguna Hills turned its season around with a 16-0 victory over Estancia in the league finale.
"We shut them out in a game we had to win to make the playoffs," he said. "From that point on, our confidence has grown in every game. This has been such a rewarding year, but nobody thought this team would be playing in a championship game.