The first thing you notice about the Marina High boys' basketball team is the shaved heads. Those beach kids look as if they've been through boot camp.
In a way, they have.
Greg Hoffman arrived at Marina last June, replacing Steve Popovich. The expectations remained the same, the styles were just on opposite poles. It was like going from tranquilizers to shock therapy.
"It takes a high level of commitment to play for me," Hoffman said.
But now it's Hoffman who has to reach for that plateau. His commitment is being tested.
Going south, from Western to Marina, seemed ideal at the time. Hoffman was ready for the challenge of facing quality teams night in and night out.
The Sunset League was just such a place. Almost every night there would be a test, a chance for Hoffman to prove his own abilities. He loved the idea.
But for every take, there is a give.
Hoffman, 37, strains with being a walk-on coach, cut off from the personal contact he enjoys. While his players are in class, he is teaching at a junior high school in Anaheim.
"Not being there during the day has been the hardest part," Hoffman said. "To me, being on campus is very important to me. Now I teach five classes, then drive like a bat out of hell to get there. I feel worn out at the end of the day. What's worse is I really don't get to know anyone there but the players."
It's the price he paid for wanting to step up.
No one ever had more success at Western than Hoffman. In 10 seasons he had a record of 130-78, won three Orange League titles and finished second three times.
He wrung potential from his players the way one squeezes water from a dish towel. It wasn't a soft-sell approach. No one with thin skin or a thick head should apply. But, it was effective.
Something, though, was missing.
"I basically wanted to coach in a bigger atmosphere, where coaches were prepared every night," Hoffman said. "At Western, there were teams we played that were put together because some science teacher didn't have anything to do in the winter. A lot of those programs were run by people who were not professional coaches, guys who were in it for a lifetime."
When a spot in the Sunset League opened up, Hoffman jumped at the chance.
He was also attracted by the lure of working with kids in a better situation. At Marina, there would be fewer problems.
There wouldn't be the need to constantly raise money. There would be no drain on coaching time from outside problems. There would be people who cared about the program.
Or so he thought.
"The same things that made me happy at Western, make me happy here," Hoffman said. "But the same things that bugged me at Western, bug me here. I have tremendous support from the administration. They are really great people. Coaches are still being asked to do too much."
Fund raising is still a chore. There are still problems to deal with outside the basketball arena. And, sometimes, people care too much.
"We ask parents to raise all this money for the program, then we expect them to keep their mouths shut and stay out of it," Hoffman said. "That's asking too much of a person who just wants to see their son succeed. Coaches feel overworked and underappreciated.
"You're the coach, father confessor, counselor, psychologist and fund raiser. Sometimes you feel like Don Quixote, flailing at wind mills."
And the up side?
Well, the Vikings are 4-4, but the quality of the competition has been exactly what Hoffman had hoped for.
"In eight games, the team we played has always been prepared," Hoffman said. "The guy I'm facing on the other bench has spent as much time in practice and the film room as I have. We've already played at Christ College Irvine, and we're going to play at Chapman. At Western, we never played outside anything but a dingy gym."