Match made in (gridiron) heaven

The introduction took place four summers ago when two youngsters from different middle schools met while pursuing the same dream: to make it with the Laguna Beach High football program.

Austin Paxson and Chris Paul said they didn't know each other before trying out for the Laguna freshman team that day in 2007. Few others did, either.

But today, the duo needs no introduction. After four years with the program — each has played on varsity for three years — both have made themselves well-known, especially within the school's football record book.

"I definitely wasn't paying attention to any of it until I was told about the records," Paxson, 17, said. "But now that I'm done playing football here, it's kind of cool to look back and see what we did, the legacy that we are leaving behind."

"I'm the same way," Paul said. "I didn't know too much about the records until I was told. I try not to get too caught up in that stuff. I just wanted to go out and play and have fun. It's great, though, to know that I was able to go into the record books."

It's quite a mark — make that, marks — the two are leaving.

For Paxson, who has been the Breakers' starting quarterback since early in his sophomore year, the records stand as this:

•-Career yards (5,004)

•-Career passing yards (5,245)

•-Pass attempts, career (650)

•-Pass completions, career (341)

•-Touchdown passes, single game (5, twice)

•-Touchdown passes, single season (26)

•-Touchdown passes, career (59)

•-Touchdowns responsible for, single season (28)

•-Touchdowns responsible for, career (65)

•-Passing yards, single game (349; holds three of top 10 spots)

•-PATs, single game (7)

•-PATs, career (55)

For Paul — who has been a jack of all trades, working as a kick return specialist and defensive back, in addition to starring at receiver — his accolades are:

•-Touchdowns, career (44)

•-Receptions, single game (15)

•-Receptions, career (151)

•-Receiving yards, single game (241; holds three of top 10 spots)

•-Receiving yards, career (2,545)

•-Touchdown receptions, single game (5, twice)

•-Touchdown receptions, season (19)

•-Touchdown receptions, career (42)

•-Points, single game (30, twice)

•-Points, career (276)

•-Two-point conversions scored, single season (4)

•-Two-point conversions scored, career (6)

Paxson and Paul also have combined on the sixth- and seventh-longest pass plays (78 and 77 yards) in school history.

Things, both recall, began to click between them from the start.

Paul, who also has the second-longest kickoff return (99) in school history, remembers Paxson playing free safety and as the back-up quarterback on the Laguna freshman team in 2007.

"I met Austin during the summer leading into our freshman year," he remembers. "In our sophomore year we began to get into a groove and hooked up for a few touchdowns that season. Over our junior year and this year, we just kind of sensed each other and knew what to do.

"Austin throws a great ball and doesn't make you do a lot of work as a receiver. He always makes good reads and throws the ball where it should be. He can read coverages really well and has a great knowledge of the game. It definitely makes it a lot easier when you know your quarterback like that."

Paxson, who said he's "not much" of a running quarterback but a "stay-in-the-pocket" type who "likes to pick secondaries apart," says Paul's talent was apparent early on.

During his freshman year, Paul scored 18 touchdowns.

"He's always been a great receiver and did a lot for our team over the years," he said. "This year, teams knew how good he was and seemed to devote their time to stopping him. If that was the case, then I'd throw to the other side of the field where we had Derek Reigel and Robert Clemons. They both are talented receivers, as well, and really stepped up this year."

"I never thought it would happen, but Chris got triple-teamed a few times this year," Laguna Coach Jonathan Todd, who stepped down after the season, said. "This just opened up plays for other receivers. If you look at the passing leaders in our league, Chris is No. 1, Robert Clemons is second and Derek Reigel is third, with Norty Penney in fifth place. Even when he wasn't catching passes, he was creating opportunities for other guys."

Todd said he saw great potential from both players early in their careers.

"In his sophomore year, he ran our second-team offense but kept making plays against our first-team guys, so I realized he had tremendous poise and was a playmaker," Todd said of Paxson. "So we put him in our second game of 2008 and he's started ever since. He was only 14 years old that entire season.

"We knew Chris was going to special his sophomore year. He has good speed, tremendous hands and some of the best body control of a receiver that I had ever seen."

If there was a night of formal introductions for the two, it had to be Laguna's opening-round game of the CIF Southern Division playoffs against Santa Ana on Nov. 20, 2008, at Santa Ana Stadium. All the pair did was hook-up on four scoring pass plays — a then-school record that both later would break. Paul also scored on a fumble recovery to give him five touchdowns on his way to a 30-point night — both records — and the Breakers had their first postseason victory, 39-14, in 21 years.

"They've always clicked, those two," Todd said. "They're best friends and know what the other is going to do. But that Santa Ana game was when you saw it all come together."

Paxson has been All-Orange Coast League all three years, as well as All-CIF a year ago. Paul also is a three-time all-league selection and was league Most Valuable Player in 2009 and All-CIF both his sophomore and junior years. The 2010 All-CIF football teams have yet to be announced.

Both players have not only made their mark on the field, but in the classroom, as well. Paul said he signed a National Letter of Intent in November with UC Santa Barbara, where he will play baseball. Paxson said his options are open and has drawn interest from a few Ivy League schools, including Brown University.

"All this talk is about their accomplishments on the field," Todd said. "They are also two great individuals, straight-A students and very respectful. They really represent the best that Laguna has to offer. I'm proud to have coached them.

"I don't know if we'll have two like them again. They really helped make a name for Laguna Beach football."

But it wasn't an easy senior season for either Paxson or Paul, who both suffered setbacks. Paxson was ill when Laguna played at Ocean View in the second game of the season, a game in which he also suffered an injury to his throwing hand that subsequently forced him to miss the Bishop Montgomery game the following week. Paul injured his right shoulder in the second quarter of the Calvary Chapel game in the seventh week of the season, but came back to play in the final game of the season, a memorable Nov. 12 finale against Saddleback.

The pair went out in style.

In a wild 49-39 victory, Paul caught five touchdown passes that allowed him to set a new Orange County record for career touchdown receptions (42). He also tied his own school record of touchdown receptions in a game and set a school record for points scored in a game. He finished with eight receptions for 191 yards for the night, the fourth highest in a game by a Laguna receiver.

Paxson threw for 277 yards on 16 of 23 passing and also threw a touchdown pass to sophomore Robert Clemons.

That game also saw Saddleback running back Luis Soto ramble his way into the Cal Hi Sports state record books by carrying the ball 71 times for 484 yards and five touchdowns.

"Right after that final game I thought, 'wow, that went fast,'" Paxson said of his Laguna career. "It was great to see our team get a win in our last game and see Chris go out on top."

Paxson and Paul, however, aren't finished with their athletic careers. You will find them on the baseball diamond this spring, suiting up for the Breakers for one final hurrah.

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