If the measure of a Hall-of-Fame athlete is one who thoroughly dominates their sport, then past Laguna Beach High greats Dane Blanton and Rudy Dvorak (volleyball), Rick Leach (tennis), Rennie Durand (track), Eric Hulst (cross country, track), Annika Dries (water polo, swimming) and Lance Stewart (volleyball, football and basketball) would certainly be inducted. And so would current senior Chris Paul.
A four-year starter in baseball and three-year starter in football, Paul put up the kind of career numbers that local sports fans will be talking about for a long time. “Every coach dreams of guys like him,” said Jeff Sears, Paul’s baseball coach for all four years.
Even before he played his first baseball game for the Breakers, Paul had already made his mark in Little League as part of the 2004 section and district champion Aliso Viejo All Stars. When he became Laguna’s starting shortstop as a freshman, he was unconcerned by the school’s historic struggles on the diamond. “I wanted to just come in and make a difference,” Paul said a few days after playing his final game.
Last Friday, May 27, at CIF quarterfinals, Oaks Christian ended Laguna’s storybook season by turning a couple of timely hits and five double plays into a 6-3 victory that stunned the Breakers but couldn’t tarnish what they had done. “Going 27-3 with these guys was a remarkable accomplishment,” said Sears.
“To be honest, I was surprised at how well we did,” said Paul.
Before this season, Laguna had not won a league title since 1963. It was Paul’s unselfish commitment to the team that helped Sears reverse 48 years of futility and turn a perennial loser into a division IV powerhouse in just four years.
With his bat, his arm, his glove and his desire, Paul showed his coach early on that he was “all in”, words the players chanted in unison before each game this season to reinforce their commitment to give maximum effort.
Paul played in 113 of his team’s 118 games over four years, breaking his former teammate Dillon Pierce’s record of 95. But to achieve Paul’s career numbers, longevity isn’t enough. It also takes consistent production at a high level.
In each of his last 61, Paul reached base at least once and scored or drove in a combination of 2.5 runs on average per game. “There are times that hitters get fooled, but he’s got such good eyes and hands that he puts the ball in play,” said Sears. “And you put the ball in play, good things happen.”
Paul’s records on the football field are no less extraordinary, but his impact on the team’s success is less dramatic, although he did help the 2009 squad win only the 12th league title in school history.
As a gifted wide receiver with soft hands and deceptive quickness, the 6’2” Paul often made under-sized defensive backs look inept as he went above and around them for 2,546 receiving yards on 151 catches, both Laguna career records.
For the most part, Paul’s baseball records are individual, resulting from one-on-one battles with countless pitchers. To achieve his football records, though, Paul needed help from teammates, most notably quarterback Austin Paxson, the other half of the most prolific pass-catch duo in school history. “If something’s not open, I can almost feel where he’s going to go,” Paxson once said of his good friend and favorite target.
“He’s got tremendous heart and his work ethic is huge. I think he’s one the best receivers in the county,” former coach Jonathon Todd said presciently before the start of Paul’s senior season. In his final game, Paul caught five TDs to run his career total to 42, a new county record.
Records and accolades aside, Paul humbly sums up his LBHS sports career: “I just tried to have as much fun as I could.”
Frank Aronoff contributed to this story.
Receptions in a game: 15
Receptions in a season: 61 (tie)
Receptions in a career: 151
Receiving yards in a game: 241
Receiving yards in a career: 2,546
Receiving TDs in a game: 5
Receiving TDs in a season: 19
Receiving TDs in a career: 42
Total TDs in a career: 44
Total points in a game – 30 (tie)
Total point in a career – 288
Baseball Career Marks (batting)
Games played: 113
At Bats: 374
Home Runs: 20
Baseball Career Marks (pitching)
Record: 14-5, 3 Saves
Innings Pitched: 132
Complete games: 10
Photo: Paul BB.jpg
Caption: Chris Paul pitching earlier in the season.
Credit: Bob Campbell
Photo: Paul FB.jpg
Caption: Chris Paul pulls down one of his school record 151 career passes.
Credit: Bob Campbell