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Members of the Laguna Hills defense pose during a high school football practice on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022 in Laguna Hills, Calif. Laguna Hills has done well on defense this season holding its opponents to 11.2 points per game (Ryan Kuhn,


Laguna Hills football showing its defense has something to prove

The Hawks are giving up just 11.2 points per game as they look to go 6-0

LAGUNA HILLS — When Laguna Hills linebacker Vinny Garcia makes a play on defense, he returns to the sidelines with a chip on his shoulder. 

Maybe that’s just how he plays?

Or maybe, it’s a common theme his teammates have embraced?

“We are looked on as such a small school,” Garcia said. “We know what we are and how good of a team we are. We are just trying to prove something this season.”

And so far they have. Laguna Hills’ defense has given up just 11.2 points per game and helped the football program start 5-0 for the first time in 11 years. 

“We try to be physical, we try to be nasty in the terns of playing hard,” defensive coordinator Joel Wittenberg said. “We take it personal wanting to shut every team down. We want to get after people and we pride ourselves on that.”

Wittenberg is no stranger to Laguna Hills nor the defense. 

He was a linebacker for the Hawks back in the 1980s and now in the midst of his third year as defensive coordinator. 

“He’s very good at what he does,” Laguna Hills head coach John Lester said about Wittenberg. “I’ve known Joel for many years and when I took over it was a very easy decision to keep him on my staff. At this school continuity and the coaching staff is so big for us. It’s why we have been so good for so many decades.”

Of course Wittenberg just credits his players. 

“We have a lot of returning guys that know what to do defensively. It makes my job easy,” Wittenberg said.

Members of the Laguna Hills defense celebrate following a an interception during a high school football game against Woodbridge in Irvine, Calif., Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. (Ryan Kuhn,

The Hawks defense has been centered around Garcia who has led the team in tackles since the beginning of 2021.

“The name on the front of my jersey drives me,” Garcia said. “I never try to play for myself. I play for my brothers around me.”

Garcia is not doing it alone. The Hawks also feature senior defensive linemen Angelo Rubio and Travis Randolph and of a secondary that is patrolled by Nate Auten and Troy Leigber. 

Leigber has been a standout running back the past few years but relishes the opportunity to be a two-way player. 

“It was hard when I just played varsity defense when I was a sophomore but since I feel like I have really stepped up,” Leigber said. 

Laguna Hills’ enrollment is one of the smaller public high schools in South Orange County and its athletic department eventually moved from the Sea View League to the Pacific Coast League that feature the smaller Irvine public schools, but the players and coaches can’t do anything about it. Instead they focus on embrace the challenges of each opponent. 

“A lot of people don’t realize is that offense makes those big flashy plays, but defense wins championships and that is what we want to play for,” Garcia said. 

Laguna Hills travels to University High School to face the Trojans tonight at 7 p.m. The Hawks have won the last three meetings by an average of 34 points per game.

Ryan was born and raised in Dana Point went to Dana Hills High School. He graduated from Sacramento State University with a BA in Journalism. Throughout his career as a sports journalist, he has covered high schools, colleges, and professional teams. After working for multiple newspapers in as many states, he came to the conclusion that what he really wanted was to make sure the high schools in his hometown area got the sports coverage they deserved. Follow him on Twitter @rskuhn

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