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Laguna Beach's Simon ready to finish what he started
When Corey Brown resigned as Laguna Beach High’s football coach after the fall 2014 season, his departure put in motion a chain reaction that saw some of the program’s best underclassmen follow suit and move elsewhere.
Thoughts of transferring out of Laguna Beach’s program also entered Jack Simon’s mind, but only for a moment.
As Simon enters his third year as the Breakers’ starting quarterback, the scenery around him has changed dramatically, yet he’s never been more excited. His faith in his decision to stay at Laguna Beach remains strong.
As the cliche goes, Simon has been handed the keys to the car that is the Laguna Beach football team, and he’s putting in his work through summer to show his dedication to his teammates.
“His attitude has always been very strong. He’s a positive young man,” first-year Breakers coach Ted Clarke said. “We’re high-energy guys. The kids feed on that. Jack was one who, we got his attention right away and he figured that this was going to be good.”
Simon had every opportunity to search elsewhere for a better situation. In two seasons under Brown, the Breakers went a combined 7-13 and struggled to uphold the pedigree of their previous coach and athletic director, Mike Churchill, and student-athletes in Drake Martinez and Nathan Lancaster.
Simon soaked in all he could from all three during his freshman year.
Three years later, he faces the unique challenge of working with his third head coach and a team bereft of some of its major contributors from a season ago.
He knows that the Breakers’ success will start with him, and he’s ready to take on the challenge.
“I feel like we’re re-energized and we have a new sense of team,” Simon said. “Last season, I felt a couple people were out for themselves and now it’s just a team. We work together.”
Growing up a baseball player, Simon reached Laguna Beach High with a decision to make. Born in Mission Viejo as the younger of Dave and Shani Simon’s two boys, Jack Simon had been challenged throughout his baseball life by his older brother, Luke, who also played at Laguna Beach.
Simon wanted more than just baseball out of high school, however, and football seemed like a better fit than basketball.
It proved to be a wise decision. After one year of backing up Martinez, Simon was awarded the starting job by Brown before his sophomore season. With plenty of weapons at his disposal, including running back Lancaster, Simon faced minimal pressure in his first year at quarterback.
“That was a crazy experience,” Simon recalled. “I was thrown in the fire just trying to do what I could. I had Nate to help me out and it was kind of a good year to have me in. I couldn’t have done that at any other school.”
His junior season was different.
The big guns all graduated and with an influx of new, young talent, opposing teams knew the focal point of the offense was now resting on Simon’s shoulders.
It was a struggle. Laguna Beach finished 2-8 and won only one Orange Coast League game. Brown resigned after the season to go back to school to pursue a degree in human health.
“I was shocked, a little bit. I wasn’t sure what to do,” Simon said about learning of Brown’s resignation.
Players transferred, including tight end Kyle McCombs, who went to St. John Bosco. Max Casper left for Corona del Mar, among others.
Simon thought about the possibilities of finding a new home, then shook it off as if to question himself for even thinking it in the first place. In that split second, Simon knew he was all in for Laguna Beach. It was blind faith, but it would soon be rewarded.
“I focused on baseball for a while and when I got back to football, I decided to put in all I had because it was my senior year,” Simon said. “I knew Churchill was going to pick a good person to replace him. I decided to totally buy in.”
Simon comes from an athletic family. His father, Dave, was a three-sport athlete in high school, excelling in basketball, golf and tennis.
Jack Simon wanted to do the same.
This past spring, as Simon helped the Breakers’ baseball team to a 20-7 overall record and a second-round appearance in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 playoffs. That success, he said, confirmed his decision to stay at Laguna Beach.
“Baseball and football are two different things, so when I go to one, I miss the other,” Simon said. “It keeps me in check and I wanted to stay here because I wanted to know what’s next.”
This summer, he’s worked on both simultaneously, playing two summer league games a week for baseball in addition to his football workouts.
“He’s been great all summer, I’ve definitely seen a more intense focus and determination out of him,” baseball coach Mike Bair said. “He’s been one of the better bats for us and his defense has been tremendous.”
Bair added that he expects more out of his seniors and Simon will fit the mold next spring.
The big moment, though, came in June. Simon found out about Clarke, his new football coach.
Armed with decades of coaching experience, Clarke brings an energy and enthusiasm to Laguna Beach football that Simon enjoys.
Clarke saw two quarterbacks and five receivers in his first voluntary workout in early July. Among the group was Simon, learning along with his receivers the concepts of catching a football and watching it into the tucking motion. It was back to the basics, but Simon never once complained.
“He’s an extremely mature young adult and he accepts change,” said offensive coordinator Pete Mitchell. “When we went back to the basics, he knew he had to work on some weaknesses and now they aren’t weaknesses anymore. … His presence on the field is where we will rely on him most.”
Within the first couple of weeks of workouts, Simon received a phone call from his new coach. Clarke told him that the team was his, which meant being a leader in the weight room, in the classroom and during practice on the field.
“OK,” Clarke recalled as Simon’s response.
“I think my response was better than ‘OK,’” Simon said with a laugh. It’s about the only thing the two may disagree on all season. “I thought it was cool because he didn’t know me. I could have totally been lazy.”
Clarke and Mitchell plan to employ more of a spread offense to Laguna Beach this season. It’s much different than the Wing-T offense Simon has run in the past, but he’s thrilled at the potential of option reads and better protection up front.
Both coaches are excited about Simon’s ability to sling the ball.But they are most impressed by his willingness to dedicate himself to the program and help his teammates grow.
“For a quarterback to come out of Wing-T and be told he was going to throw the ball, that got his attention right away,” Clarke said. “He’s always felt comfortable and when you have that kind of relationship. It makes things a lot easier.”
Because he has worked hard for both programs, Simon has not had a vacation this summer. He’s OK with that because he believes he’s working for his future.
Next week, he will take an East Coast trip to visit multiple schools with the possibility that he may call one of them his next football or baseball home.
“After this year, I might not get another year to play,” Simon said. “This might be my last year to play sports. I love to play both and that’s why I chose to come out and work this summer.”
Because of his decision to stay, he’s not only given his new coaching staff an advantage by having an experienced signal caller, he’s giving the school hope that this season could be the start of a turnaround for Breakers football.
Simon isn’t worried about those who have left the program. He says he’s happy to lead the crew he has now. Though they may not have the experience as some of those who left, the sense of a complete team makes it all worthwhile for Simon.
“They’re missing out on an opportunity here, I think Coach Clarke is going to be great to us and he has this mind-set of us winning,” Simon said. “I think if they stayed, we could have done greater things.”
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