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Aiden Rubin lets his shoulder pads do the talking, and the San Clemente senior running back has been loud this season.
Rubin has set the Tritons’ single-season records for rushing yards (1,738) and rushing touchdowns (20) and a single-game record with 271 yards rushing. The senior has rushed for over 126 yards and a score in each of the past nine games for San Clemente.
That dominating and punishing ground attack has powered San Clemente (9-1) to a South Coast League championship and a CIF-SS Division 1 playoff date, with a first-round game at nationally ranked No. 1 seed St. John Bosco (9-1) of Bellflower on Friday, Nov. 10.
“It’s a pretty cool experience,” Rubin said of his record-breaking senior season. “I didn’t think I was going to come in and break records. I just came in ready to get work in, and I think that paid off.”
Rubin came in ready off a junior season in which he rushed for only 390 yards and five touchdowns, but he showed promise in one 122-yard performance last season. It’s such an explosion in production that Tritons head coach Jaime Ortiz actually apologized to Rubin for not using him more last season.
“The thing about him is he’s a tough, hard-nosed kid,” Ortiz said. “As the game goes on, he runs harder. As kids get tired and fatigued in the fourth quarter, he amps it up. That’s one thing that’s really helped with him, his ability to take on tacklers and continue to bring that punishing style.”
Rubin said his running style is to “get upfield as soon as I can and as hard as I can.” He doesn’t shy away from contact, but he also doesn’t take the hit and go down. Rubin routinely churns his legs for extra yards while occasionally deftly ducking his shoulders through contact to break his longer runs.
Part of that style of his game comes from his background playing rugby. Rubin has played football since he was 7 or 8 years old, and has been playing rugby since the seventh grade.
“It definitely helps,” Rubin said. “In rugby, you’re not wearing pads, so you have to know where to run with your legs.”
Rubin’s style set the tone for San Clemente, especially as it built toward its biggest games of the season. Rubin rushed for 249 yards and four touchdowns in a one-point Homecoming loss to Murrieta Valley, and after the bye week, he rushed for his record 271 yards with one touchdown in a win at Ayala.
That set up the Tritons’ league-opening rivalry clash with Mission Viejo. San Clemente gained big first downs on two of its first three offensive plays to force a Diablos timeout, and after that pause, Rubin broke a 50-yard score up the Mission Viejo sideline to show the Tritons weren’t backing down. San Clemente went on to win its first game at Mission Viejo High since 1998.
Ortiz described Rubin as “the epitome of what San Clemente football is all about.”
From the tough, physical style to the “One Town, One Team” mantra, Rubin is definitely all of that.
Rubin is one of 38 seniors on this San Clemente roster–the most Ortiz has had in his tenure–and that special bond of playing with the same group of guys since they were 7 or 8 years old is something Rubin called attention to. Despite all the personal and team success, Rubin said practices with teammates have been his favorite thing about this season.
“It’s pretty crazy. We always have photos of us from forever ago, and we’re still going,” Rubin said. “It’s an awesome experience that we’re always talking about.”
That brotherly team energy is evident in games and at those practices. In this week leading up to their Division 1 playoff opener, the Tritons have been getting into the spirit of the season with Christmas music being played during warmups. A rally bugle plays to signal lining up in formation and getting to business, but San Clemente is still enjoying its extra time together this season.
“Teams that continue on in the season, especially in the playoffs, they’re teams that want to be together,” Ortiz said. “There are programs out there that want to be done after the regular season, but for our kids, they know it’s a brand-new season. They’re excited for the opportunity.”
That opportunity ahead of San Clemente is locking up with Trinity League champion St. John Bosco, the top seed in CIF-SS Division 1 and the No. 3 team in the country, according to MaxPreps.
Bosco is simply loaded with college-bound talent at every position at every level. The Braves scored at least 42 points in four of their five Trinity League contests, with the only outlier being a 28-0 shutout of Mater Dei, which is ranked No. 5 in the nation and is the No. 2 seed in Division 1.
San Clemente’s physical running style and ball-hawking defense is built for the type of game it’s going to have to play to compete on the road with St. John Bosco, but the Tritons aren’t locking themselves up about going up against such a monumental foe.
“We’re playing with house money,” Ortiz said. “They’re No. 1, and we’re No. 8. We’re going to let it all hang out, play Triton football and see what happens.”
This is a San Clemente group that has seen its fair share of challenges and not backed down. The Triton seniors had their first varsity seasons as sophomores delayed by the pandemic in 2020, and they fought tooth-and-nail in overtime after being pulled up to the last seed in Division 2 last season.
“It’s a group of kids that have unfinished business from last season,” Ortiz said. “They wanted to go out and do the best they could this year. They’re 9-1, one play away from being 10-0. We’re in the toughest bracket in the nation come Friday night, and these kids are excited.”
It’s a group of kids that could have all the pressure in the world on their shoulders heading into their Division 1 opener, but as evidenced by the runs of Rubin, their shoulders are pretty strong.
“This week, we’re having a lot of fun and being in the moment,” Rubin said. “We’re going at 100 percent. Playing our best game, being ourselves, that’s the best that we can do.”