The end of last season was a roller-coaster ride.
One week, the Laguna Beach High football team couldn’t hold a 22-point lead and lost to Costa Mesa in a game that decided the Orange Coast League title. The next, the Breakers were beating up on Santa Ana, headed for their first CIF playoff win in 21 years before falling to Corona del Mar in the second round.
But the Breakers bring several pieces back and the tone for this year is also optimistic. It starts with junior receiver Chris Paul (6-foot-1, 180 pounds), an all-CIF performer a year ago who had 677 yards and eight touchdowns and also starts at cornerback.
“He’s probably one of the best athletes I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Coach Jonathan Todd said. “He’s very, very natural and I believe he’s one of the best receivers in the county. He’ll show that this year if he stays healthy.”
Feeding Paul and sophomore Derek Reigel (6-0, 185) the ball will be junior quarterback Austin Paxson (5-9, 155), who also returns. Paxson can also hand the ball off to seniors Alec Jaffe (5-8, 190) or Rouzbeh Kazemian (5-11, 190).
Jaffe has big shoes to fill as Zack Smith ran for well over 2,000 yards in his career, including a school-record 309 against Costa Mesa.
“I think Jaffe is right there with Zach,” Todd said. “He’s also a phenomenal receiver.”
Seniors Chris Hilleman (6-2, 230) and Ryan Raffo (6-3, 230), both offensive tackles and defensive ends, are three-year varsity staters. They’re joined by guards Drew Gerhold (6-2, 240) and Jed Christiansen (5-9, 190), as well as junior center Taylor Preston (5-9, 190).
Hilleman, Raffo, Christiansen and Gerhold make up the defensive front four, and they’ll be spelled by Travis Clauson, Thomas Munayyer and Ben Hanson.
“I think [Hilleman] could be the best lineman in the league,” Todd said. “That’s who he needs to be, the most dominant.”
Reigel and junior Michael Hyden (6-8, 180) are outside linebackers, with returning all-league senior Ethan Quirarte (6-1, 210) at middle. Quirarte also plays tight end, punter and is backup quarterback; a lot of hats are necessary when the team has just 31 varsity players.
Sophomore Norton Penney (5-10, 180) joins Paul at cornerback, with Jaffe and Kazemian at safety.
Sophomore Miles Shirley is an early favorite for kicking duties.
Jonathan Bowman, who worked at St. Margaret’s last year, is a new defensive coordinator and Todd said he feels the Breakers’ defense will be improved.
“Every kid on the team will give tremendous effort,” Todd said. “We don’t have a lot of numbers, but they’re all hard workers and will give it everything they’ve got. My big thing is to stay healthy and it’s going to be a great year.”
League: Orange Coast
CIF Division: Southern
Coach: Jonathan Todd (third year)
2008 record: 5-7, 3-1 in league
Returning starters: six on offense, four on defense
Returning lettermen: 15
Returning with honors: QB Austin Paxson; RB/DB Alec Jaffe; WR/DB Chris Paul; OL/DL Chris Hilleman; LB Ethan Quirarte.
11 Corona del Mar, 7 p.m.
18 Coronado, 7 p.m.
26 at Santa Monica, 7 p.m.
1 at Garden Grove, 7 p.m.
9 at Parker, 7 p.m.
16 at Godinez, 7 p.m.*
23 Calvary Chapel, 7 p.m.*
30 Oak Hills, 7 p.m.
6 at Estancia, 7 p.m.*
13 Costa Mesa, 7 p.m.*
*denotes league game