Last Friday against Costa Mesa, Laguna Beach senior running back Nathan Lancaster scored on runs of 73, 25 and 43 yards to highlight a 208-yard night. It was the last in a long line of stellar performances that punctuated a career unlike any those in attendance at Guyer Field have seen since…well, since last year, when Drake Martinez (’13) set a slew of rushing and scoring records that, at the time, seemed untouchable.
But that was before Lancaster emerged from the shadow of his former teammate to put on a season-long show that had statisticians scouring the record books and local fans searching for superlatives to describe the latest in a never-ending procession of jaw-dropping runs that seemed to leave everyone in the stadium but Lancaster breathless. “I knew he was special,” said Corey Brown, who was Lancaster’s freshman coach before taking over the varsity squad from Mike Churchill at the end of last season.
“One of the very first times he touched the ball as a sophomore, he took off on a 77-yard run for a touchdown,” said Churchill, who watched from the sidelines as his former backup ran circles around would be tacklers all season.
For years, Lancaster played club rugby. And he won an AYSO national championship as a goalie on Laguna’s Under 14 team. But he didn’t put on football pads for the first time until his freshman year. Still, his speed and athleticism made an immediate impact. “He’s one of the fastest guys I’ve ever seen with a ball in his hands,” said Brown, a former high school and college quarterback. “You could give him the ball anywhere on the field and he’s a threat to score.”
A quite, laid back guy on and off the field, Lancaster, an avid reader, is as happy with a book in his hands as he is with a football tucked under his arm. “He wasn’t a rah, rah kind of individual, but he was definitely the kind guy that gave it his all anytime he was on the field,” said Brown.
Excited to play for his former freshman coach again, Lancaster decided he would do everything he could to make Brown’s first year as a varsity coach a success. By game six, he had cracked the 1,000 yard mark, and he began to think he had a shot at Martinez’ single season rushing record.
And so did Brown, who kept feeding him the ball. “With Nathan, I was extremely lucky,” said Brown, who knows how rare Lancaster’s talent is. “He’s just gifted with the way he can run and move his body.”
Lancaster managed to keep in contact this season through pre- and post-game texts with his former running mates Robert Clemons III and Martinez, who, along with Lancaster, racked up 3,136 yards on the ground last year. Lancaster knew if the Breakers were to fill the considerable void left by those two division one college recruits, he was going to have to pick up the slack. “I did a lot better than I thought I would,” he said.
Lancaster did a lot better than perhaps anyone thought he would. He finished the season with 2,297 rushing yards in only 10 games, the highest regular season total of any Orange County runner this year and 408 yards more than Martinez’ school record of 1,889 set in ’11 over 13 regular and post-season games. “This year it just really fell on his shoulders,” said Churchill. “He just rose to the occasion.”
No Laguna running back ever rose higher than Lancaster did on Oct. 24, against Calvary Chapel at Jim Scott Stadium in Costa Mesa. In one of the most prolific gridiron displays in country history, Lancaster shredded the Eagles defense for a school record seven touchdowns and county record 547 rushing yards, which was also the third highest total in state history.
By halftime, Lancaster had a mind-boggling 291 yards and four TDs on runs of 75, 68, 63 and one yard. Still, the Breakers were only up 35-28 in a game that turned into a heavy weight slugfest between league rivals.
Lancaster continued his on-field onslaught in the second half with scoring runs of 41, 76 and 68 yards. He threw in a two-point conversion to run his single game school scoring record to 44 points. But it wasn’t enough, as Calvary threw the final 6-point punch in overtime to knock out Laguna 62-56.
The two teams combined for over 1,400 yards of total offense. And the 118 combined points was the third highest total ever record in the history of Orange County high school football.
It was a performance for the ages, but for the low-key, team-first Lancaster, it was just another example of what you can accomplish when you work together. “The team is what allowed me to do what I have done this last year, so it was mostly a team effort,” he said.
Disappointed that the Breakers missed the post season, Lancaster isn’t quite ready to hang up his cleats, and he hopes to get some offers from colleges soon. “I sure hope he gets a chance to play some more football,” said Brown.
Frank Aronoff contributed to this story.
547 yards rushing
291 yards rushing in first half
2,297 yards rushing (OC #1 2013 regular season)
223 points (OC #1 2013 regular season)
31 rushing touchdowns
34 total touchdowns (ties record)
4 two-point conversions (ties record)
3,757 rushing yards
12.24 yards per carry (5th all-time in state history)
29 TD runs of 30 or more yards