Simon leading man for Laguna Beach against Bolsa Grande


LAGUNA BEACH – “Jack Simon,” the old coach cooed, “is a movie star.”

The six words dangled for a spell late Friday night, awkwardly suspended in midair like one of those cartoonist-drawn quotation bubbles.

Moments before, in a game as long as it was ugly, Laguna Beach managed to hold on to a 16-12 home win over visiting Bolsa Grande, and now Ted Clarke, the Breakers’ first-year coach, was overcome by the intoxicating brew of perspiration, adrenaline and – yes – hope.

One week earlier, his team opened the season with a demoralizing 50-0 thrashing at the hands of Valley Christian, and the coach quietly wondered just how much the Breakers could accomplish. They were, after all, a smallish collection of but 27 boys, including a mere three seniors. Four of the school’s top six players transferred during the summer, and Clarke, a longtime assistant coach at Whittier College, had been hired so late in the year (July 16) that the Breakers had, literally, no spring workouts.

“I don’t want to be dramatic,” he said a few days after the opener, “but usually you have about 260 days to prepare between seasons. We had to compress everything into four weeks. We were lacking a lot of the advantages most teams have.”

What Laguna Beach didn’t lack, however, was a quarterback. On his first day at the school, Clarke said he observed Simon for a few moments and, “knew what I was seeing was special.” Although slightly built, with 170 pounds on a wiry 6-foot-2 frame, the third-year varsity starter looked the look (dark wavy hair, chiseled facial features) and walked the walk (bowlegged, like a young Joe Namath). Which, cliché be damned, mattered. Clarke loved the kid’s confidence; his moxie. “He’s just so instinctive,” the coach said. “It’s all really natural.”

Against Bolsa Grande, Simon was a maroon-and-white blur of artistic expressiveness; 50 percent Alvin Ailey, 50 percent Russell Wilson. Maybe it was because Todd Stratton, the Whittier College head coach, was in attendance on a recruiting visit. Maybe it was because the stands were mostly filled and the pep band was blasting away. Maybe, as he noted later, “I was humiliated after last week.” Whatever the motivation, Simon was magical.

On the Breakers’ first-quarter scoring drive, he ran the ball on six straight plays, including a twisting, turning, ducking 7-yard dash up the middle that involved at least three blown tackles and what appeared to be some sort of levitation. Laguna Hills scored when, with 6:02 remaining in the quarter, Simon tossed a 6-yard dart to Blake Lusk in the end zone. He then ran in a keeper for the 2-point conversion and 8-0 lead.

Simon struck again midway through the second quarter, when he kept a drive alive by dropping back, rolling left, looking … looking … looking – and then weaving down the field, past two tacklers and beneath the arms of a third for a gain of 23. Four plays later, following another Simon keeper, running back Hank Syversten plunged into the end zone, and another 2-point conversion made it 16-0.

The game was sloppy. And ugly. Routes were run incorrectly. At one point, two members of Bolsa Grande’s offense performed an ode to Mark Sanchez’s butt fumble, slamming into one another before wobbling to the ground. There was a thrown punch and a blatant horse collar. There was the overly yappy PA announcer ripping into the officials. There were enough penalties to fill the depressingly empty visiting bleachers.

Ultimately, however, there was Simon, who immediately after the game yanked the helmet from his head, took a deep breath and smiled widely. He had never participated in organized football before his freshman year at Laguna Beach, and thought of himself mainly as a baseball player (he’s a pitcher in the spring).

Now, however, the perspective has changed.

Now, Jack Simon is a quarterback.

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