Where are they now...
LAGUNA HILLS, CA — While Avon Central School prepares for their upcoming football season — on the opposite coast some 2,600 miles away at Laguna Hills High School, Bruce Ingalls is doing the same thing.
Ingalls, a 1971 graduate and former standout player at ACS, is the successful head football coach for the Laguna Hills Hawks.
While Ingalls prepares his Hawks for the many challenges that the Sea View League will offer this fall, he often reminisces about the good old days playing football for Dick Fagan and the Avon Braves, who won the 1970 Livingston County title.
“We were 7-1 that year,” remembers Ingalls, who played four years of varsity football for Avon. “We recorded five shutouts and only had two TD’s scored on us going into the last game of the season at Perry. That year we were undefeated and ranked number one in the state for small schools. We had some key injuries for the Perry game and they upset us 16-14. No excuses — they beat us and deserved to win. They did a great job defending our triple option offense.”
Ingalls has many memories of that ’70 squad.
“That was a very good football team,” said Ingalls. “I’m not sure where it would rank with other Livingston County champions, but, some of the stats speak for themselves. Five shutouts in one season is unheard of in any era. We had all the parts to a championship team. A big line especially for those days averaging around 250 pounds. Our skill positions were fast and talented. We believed in one another and we desperately wanted that county championship. We had lost a close game to Geneseo the year before for the title so, revenge was always on our minds.”
Ingalls was the starting quarterback.
“Our backfield consisted of fullback Tom Bartz, two halfbacks in Billy Iler and a very talented and gifted Rick Connor. Iler was a punishing lead blocker on the option. Mike Freeman was a speedy, talented wide receiver and Alan Woleslagle was our tight end. I was allowed to call my own plays and read the three components to the triple option. We counted on a very strong and big line consisting of Don Batzel, our center and punishing middle linebacker on defense; Dave Maxwell, Marty Cole, Donny Staley, Tim Brogan, Pat Brogan, Denny Welch, Dick Driscoll and Jim Gerace. They all played significant roles as linemen on both sides of the ball. If I missed anyone I apologize because my memory isn’t what it was back then. Gordy Gunther was our talented kicker. Most of us played both ways.”
While Ingalls remembers details of every game he suited up for the Braves, there are three games that really stick out to him.
“The three games I will always remember were the revenge game with Geneseo at Avon, which was the second game of the year, when we beat them 22-0 and they had a talented team with Lee Rodamaker, Stub O’Neil, and Lynch was their quarterback,” said Ingalls. “Coach Fagan and Coach Harner had us extremely motivated and prepared to win.
“The second one I remember was the Cal-Mum at Avon game that was going to be for the county title. Cars were parked all over the town to a standing room only crowd. Cal-Mum was our fierce rival and we dominated them that night 22-0. The last game was the Perry loss — it was very humbling, but, they earned it.”
Ingalls remembers how good of shape Fagan always had his teams in.
“Coach Fagan made sure we were in tremendous condition,” said Ingalls.
“We had all the right ingredients to a championship team. The teams that played us knew we were the real deal.”
While coaching football for the past 30 years, Ingalls tries to model his own style after his former mentor.
“Coach Fagan was a tremendous role model, mentor and father figure to me,” said Ingalls.
“He taught me to be responsible to my teammates and most of all to be unselfish. It would have been easy to be selfish when you were calling your own plays. He demanded a great deal from me. I was expected to know everyone’s job and know the details of every play and know why I was calling every play. He spent countless hours with me on weekends teaching me the nuances and strategies of football.
“He would critique my performance after every game. He was a perfectionist very similar to a Lombardi philosophy. He wanted the best out of his players and he demanded perfection from me because of my experience and my role as the QB. I am certain I coach in many ways the way he coached me. His principles, motivation, and philosophies will remain with me forever.”
After high school, Ingalls attended Norwich University in Vermont and was named the starting free safety his freshman year.
But he would decide to transfer to Brockport State where NCAA regulations required him to sit out a year. That season he actually went back and helped assist the Braves’ football team, who captured the Livingston County title that fall.
“That’s when I realized what I would be doing the rest of my life — coaching football,” said Ingalls.
He would go on to a solid career at Brockport State where he started at free safety and also returned both kickoffs and punts on special teams.
“I was just a role player,” said Ingalls. “I didn’t receive any significant accolades. But, more importantly, playing college football gave me even more experience and motivation to coach as soon as I graduated. I really wanted to share my knowledge, experience and passion for the game.”
And that’s when his coaching career would begin.
After graduating from Brockport, Ingalls took his first job coaching at Pavilion in 1976 as an assistant under head football coach Gary Nichols. He was a part-time teacher that year at Pavilion.
Not long after Ingalls would get his first full time job as a PE teacher and assistant varsity football coach at Livonia High School, rubbing elbows with the legendary Mike Haugh.
“Coach Haugh’s tutelage was significant and instrumental,” said Ingalls. “He taught me a great deal about coaching including organization, leadership, dealing with parents, schemes, paying attention to detail and being a great role model. To this day, I use many of his ideas and philosophies. Coach Haugh always taught me to coach someone the way you would like to be coached and I have never forgotten that either. Just like the ‘Golden Rule.’ ”
A few years later Ingalls would make the move to the west coast, a move that has kept him there over 30 years.
“I moved to California because my twin brother Brad moved out here with another friend and teammate Rick Connor,” said Ingalls. “I did not have a job when I first moved out here so I took one year off from coaching to network and find an opportunity where I would fit in and be able to contribute. I interviewed at Servite High School, a Private school in Anaheim, and I was hired as a DB coach on a very good staff. We won a mythical state championship in 1982 going 13-1, with our only loss coming to Moeller High School (Ohio), our first game of the season.”
Former NFL quarterback Steve Beuerlein was Servite’s starting QB for many seasons. Beuerlein also had a stellar career at Notre Dame and is currently a CBS broadcaster for the NFL.
Servite won another CIF Championship in 1983, going back-to-back.
After five years on the staff at Servite, Ingalls left to pursue a Public school position at Laguna Hills High School, where he was hired as a full time PE teacher and as an assistant football coach to help build a football program which had been struggling significantly.
Ingalls will be entering his 32nd year of coaching football in the state of California, this being his 15th as a head coach for Laguna Hills, who open their season Aug. 31 at Corona Del Mar High School.
Last year’s Laguna Hills squad had another successful season — finishing 7-3 on the year — although the Hawks had their six year reign on the district title snapped.
Overall, Ingalls has guided Laguna Hills to a 96-55-1 record capturing eight league titles in both the Pacific Coast League and Seaview League, along with one CIF Southern Section Championship.
His most memorable season came back in 2008 where his Hawks finished a perfect 13-0 season winning the Southern Cal Championship.
His QB from that squad — Robert Refsnyder — was a standout baseball player that led Arizona University to the national championship this past spring.
Refsnyder, a right fielder who was named MVP of the College World Series, was drafted recently by the NY Yankees.
Ingalls is hopeful this year’s Hawks can avoid the injury plagued season they had last year when two of his key players and team captains, both went down to late season injuries.
“It was like losing a (Brandon) Fuentes from Avon,” said Ingalls, of the importance of losing his two star players. “But, despite those injuries, it was a very good year even though we fell short of our two goals for a League and CIF Championship. The bar is set very high at this school as it is with many schools in this area so anything less than a championship sometimes equates to a lack of success. But, I feel we did have a very good season. The outcome of five of our ten games came down to the last seconds of the game and we won four of those.”
Ingalls is currently a full-time PE teacher at Laguna Hills and says he will retire from teaching in “four years.”
But that doesn’t necessarily mean he will be done blowing the whistle in football.
“I am not sure how many more years I will be coaching,” he said. “I take it year to year now.”
You see, coaching football in the state of California, is extremely stressful, and more like a business says Ingalls.
“Winning is extremely important — it’s called job security,” said Ingalls. “I get a tremendous amount of support from our principal — Sean Boulton — and the entire administrative team here.”
Boulton, a fifth year principal at the district, is certainly one of Ingalls’ biggest fans.
“I love and respect that man so much,” Boulton said. “There’s no doubt that he is one of the best high school football coaches in the U.S. I know he’s the best in Orange County.”
Boulton says replacing Ingalls — someday — will be no easy chore.
“I know he only has a few years left, but I would hate to be the guy that replaces him,” said Boulton. “Whoever it is will have huge shoes to fill. So many players who played for Bruce come back and talk about all the life lessons they learned from him. His commitment, hard work and sacrifices — about being strong and standing up and being a man — doing the right thing. Bruce has done all the right things. I wander down to our practice field a lot and I see so much integrity in what he does.”
Coaching high school football in the state of California, says Ingalls, is highly competitive and if the W’s don’t outmatch the L’s, you better start hitting the Want Ads.
It isn’t uncommon for Laguna Hills’ 4,800 capacity stadium to be filled to the brink.
“California is a hot bed for high school football,” said Ingalls. “Football is king out here, very similar to Texas and Florida. Out here, football programs are very similar to Division One college programs with large staffs and 100-to-200 thousand dollar budgets and then some.”
Ingalls’ Laguna Hills program has pumped out tons of top collegiate talent. But they aren’t just great football players, but some outstanding students as well.
“I have coached my share of Division One players,” he said. “We have had many players around the PAC 12 at Stanford, Cal, Oregon, Arizona, USC and UCLA. I am also very proud that I now have two players in the Ivy League playing at Cornell and Harvard and two other players starting at U.C. Davis — one who started last year as a true freshman. In 2008 — our undefeated season — we had 37 players on our team with a GPA of 3.7 or higher. We also have placed more players in ‘The National Football Foundation Hall of Fame,’ which recognizes excellence in the classroom and on the field than any other high school in Orange County over the last five years. We are very proud of that.”
Remember his roots
Just last summer, Ingalls came back to Avon to visit his former classmates, teammates and other players who played “back in the day.”
Players like Alan Tubbs and Don Colerick.
“They were great players who played at Avon after I graduated,” said Ingalls. “I even got to see Lee Rodamaker who was a star at Geneseo in football and basketball. We got them in football, but, Lee got even in basketball beating Avon in the semifinals at the War Memorial. We couldn’t stop him. He scored 30 something that night.”
Ingalls tries to get back to Avon as often as he can, but with no immediate family there anymore, those trips don’t come too often.
Although he hasn’t seen an Avon game in many, many years, he says he plans on coming back after he retires from coaching.
“I have never seen an Avon game or Brockport game since I left the state,” said Ingalls. “I would love to come back to see both teams play and I am still an avid Bills fan as well.”
Blessed with support
Like any successful coach, a supportive wife and family comes into play.
That’s certainly been the case for Ingalls.
“My wife Lynn has been a great reason I am able to coach this game and spend so many countless hours away from home,” he said. “She is my biggest fan. My twin brother Brad — his wife Patti, my niece Alex and stepson Erik have also been great supporters every step of the way. I owe so much to all of them.”
He also knows that his on the field success has been a direct result of some outstanding assistants along the way.
“I have been blessed with awesome assistant coaches who are very loyal, dedicated, and knowledgeable,” he says. “Our success over many years can be attributed to some very hard working assistant coaches. The city of Laguna Hills and all the many parents of players I have coached through the years have been extremely supportive of this football program.”
While Ingalls will soon have to deal with how to stop Corona Del Mar High School’s 6-foot-4, 240-pound highly touted senior DE Tim Reinhardt in about a week, he says he will never forget the time he spent in Livingston County.
“It’s been a great run and I am still very proud to say I was born and raised in Western NY,” Ingalls said. “It was a thrill and honor to wear the green and white.”