Above: La Habra’s Aaron Porter is the Highlanders’ defensive force. (Staff photo by Keith Durflinger)
By Steve Ramirez
Football is considered the ultimate team game, where each player’s success or failure relies on everyone else on that side of the field.
But there are exceptions, and for La Habra High School, that individual is senior linebacker Aaron Porter.
He’s considered to be that good, a player whose impact can be game-changing.
Porter demonstrated that ability recently, playing a major part in the Highlanders taking two of the top teams in the CIF-Southern Section – Pac-5 Division stalwarts Servite and Orange Lutheran – to the brink before close losses.
The Highlanders didn’t win, but Porter – and also the team – certainly earned respect from the Division I powers, including Servite coach Troy Thomas, who was simply, glad the Friars won’t have to face La Habra or Porter for the rest of the season.
“He’s incredible,” said La Habra coach Frank Mazzotta, who is impressed by what he’s received from Porter, a four-year starter. “He played against two of the best teams Orange County has to offer and dominated, just dominated.
“He was simply the best player on the field. It’s not like they didn’t know who he was. It’s just hard to stop him. He’s a force out there.”
Porter’s numbers speak for themselves.
Last season, there were very few players – regardless of division – that matched the senior’s production.
Porter, who has already committed to UCLA, had 156 tackles and 11 sacks en route to earning CIF-SS Southwest
Division and Freeway League Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Porter credits his success to the help he’s received since becoming a Highlander. Others say it’s his work ethic.
“I’ve gotten a lot faster,” he said. “My speed is a little better, and I’ve gotten bigger.
“I’ve learned a lot about the game, and it definitely helps to read the offense and see how they do it, so I can perform and get better.”
He’s continued that dominance this year, especially against Servite, when he had three sacks in the 24-16 loss.
The previous week, the Friars pounded traditional-power Bishop Amat, 49-14.
But Porter, who gets another chance at a Pac-5 Division power when the Highlanders host St. John Bosco at 7 p.m. on Thursday, doesn’t play this game for stats, and he understands what’s at stake when the Highlanders, who have been dominant in the Southwest Division with four consecutive titles, venture to play teams from the CIF-SS’ elite division.
It’s about winning, which La Habra has yet to achieve during the past five meetings against teams from the Pac-5, including a combined four losses to the Trinity League’s Servite and Orange Lutheran.
“It hasn’t gone the way we wanted it to,” said Porter, who did his part before Orange Lutheran was able to rally for a 30-24 victory over the Highlanders in overtime last week. “I’m bothered by it. We should win every game we play. We’re that good of a team. We should be able to compete against anybody.”
Mazzotta said part of that desire to succeed comes from Porter’s make-up. It’s what separates the senior from other players who have similar talent.
“He’s never been anything but the hardest worker, the toughest kid,” the La Habra coach said. “He’s football smart, he’s fast.
“You name it, he’s got it. He’s one of the top linebackers in the country.”
That is just not hyperbole from his football coach. Porter is considered one of the top collegiate prospects on the West Coast by most recruiting publications
He received offers from most of the Pac-12 schools and Bowl Championship Series contender Boise State before finally settling on UCLA.
But Porter did admit that he might waiver on the oral commitment, with rumors that this could be UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel’s last year with the Bruins, who have won only 17 of 42 games during the 1984 Rose Bowl MVP’s tenure at his alma mater.
“I’m pretty committed right now,” Porter said. “If Neuheisel gets fired, that might change my mind. But I’m sticking with them for now.”
His main focus, though, is Thursday and St. John Bosco, and the rest of the season, which includes the Freeway League schedule and the chase for a fifth consecutive title.
“I just want to get better every week,” said Porter, who also provides the hammer from the fullback position on offense. “We’ll learn from (those games against Servite and Orange Lutheran). We just have to get better.”