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High School Football Preview: Newport Harbor vies for more Sunset League relevance

Aidan Goltz
Aidan Goltz, shown making a one-handed catch in the end zone during practice on Wednesday, caught 66 passes last season for Newport Harbor.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Last year, the Newport Harbor High football team was not able to compete in any seven-on-seven summer passing tournaments.

Coach Peter Lofthouse, hired in March 2018 to take over after longtime coach Jeff Brinkley retired, was still doing things like assembling his staff and trying to install new concepts and formations.

Lofthouse is back for his second year and he’s optimistic, even after the Sailors went winless in the Sunset League a year ago.

Newport Harbor had success at a passing tournament last month, making the final of the 24-team North Orange County Shootout at Sunny Hills before falling 24-9 to Orange. The Sailors went 5-2 in the tournament despite missing their best receiver, Aidan Goltz.

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The Sailors, who have a home scrimmage against Capistrano Valley on Friday night at 7 and open the season on Aug. 23 against Woodbridge at University High, don’t feel that they can be pushed around this season.

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Peter Lofthouse, seen talking with his Newport Harbor team during practice on Wednesday, went winless in his first year coaching in the Sunset League in 2018.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“I feel like we’re bigger, we’re stronger, we’re more athletic,” Lofthouse said. “The kids now have a greater sense of what the schedule’s like, what are the expectations, what we’re trying to accomplish. There’s more familiarity, and as a result, I feel like we’ve taken some real giant steps toward closing those gaps against the better football teams.”

Lofthouse said he believes the offensive and defensive lines, crucial to compete in a league like the Sunset League, have made the biggest strides. The play in the trenches will be key as the Sailors, who have not made the playoffs since 2014, attempt to qualify in CIF Southern Section Division 9.

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Newport Harbor returns senior Carter Mathisrud, a second-team All-Sunset League selection last year, at left offensive tackle. Lofthouse said that a pair of sophomores, center Brody Bradfield and right tackle Grayson Smith, are also ready to step up and make a difference.

“A lot of the O-line guys have been going to Jesse Sapolu’s camps, Men in the Trenches,” Lofthouse said. “One of the biggest problems we had last year was we just had difficulty protecting the quarterback. Those kids have really worked hard, and they’ve been in the weight room. They are all committed to football and they’ve been lifting weights this whole offseason. I think that will help us the most, in trying to be more competitive against those big schools that are some of the top teams in the county.”

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Cole Lavin, shown throwing a pass during practice on Wednesday, returns as Newport Harbor's starting quarterback.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Cole Lavin, a junior who won the job four weeks into the season last year, returns at quarterback. He has been working with the Sailors’ new quarterbacks coach, Ray de Avila, who previously held the same position at Orange Coast College.

“Last year I started working with him a little bit, outside of school,” said Lavin, who completed 94 of 173 passes for 943 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions last year. “He’s really helped us, I think, because he’s at all the practices and helped me and all the other quarterbacks with our reads and mechanics. I think he’s been a really big part of the team so far.

“Last year there were just so many moving parts, because everyone was brand new. Everyone’s kind of settled in. We know the coaches better, and they know us better.”

Junior Justin McCoy is back at running back and the Sailors also have a deep and experienced receiving corps led by Goltz, who had 66 catches for 883 yards and three touchdowns last season. Goltz recently committed to Bryant University in Rhode Island for men’s lacrosse.

“I’m definitely more excited for football this year,” Goltz said. “I think if I just work on getting faster and all of the receiver basics, then I’ll definitely step up from last year. I feel like there’s a big weight on my shoulders from last year, just because I came in first year and did pretty well.”

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Mason Walker and Jake Kellikoa, both seniors, are also returning receivers. Lofthouse said that seniors Austin Muro and Michael Morrison, both of whom start in the secondary, also could catch passes this year.

“I feel like we’re bigger, we’re stronger, we’re more athletic. The kids now have a greater sense of what the schedule’s like, what are the expectations, what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Peter Lofthouse, Newport Harbor coach

Linebackers are a strength on defense for the Sailors, who return two with all-league credentials in seniors Johnny Brigandi and Chad Koste. A transfer from Edison, junior Erik Hehl, should also contribute at middle linebacker when he becomes eligible after sitting out the first 30 days.

“The main goal is just to make it to the playoffs,” said Brigandi, who believes the Sailors can accomplish it. “We are just a lot more confident on both sides of the ball in what we’re doing. We’re moving a lot faster, not having to think, just being able to play.”

The Sailors head to Northern California to play at Aptos in Week One, but otherwise will not have to travel out of Orange County during their regular-season schedule. Six of their final seven regular-season games will be at home at Davidson Field.

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Newport Harbor linebacker Chad Koste, right, assists in a tackle against Connor Cheiner during practice on Wednesday at Davidson Field.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

NEWPORT HARBOR SAILORS

CIF Southern Section Division: 9

Coach: Peter Lofthouse (second year)

Staff: Kevin Emerson (offensive coordinator/wide receivers), John Arredondo (defensive coordinator/linebackers), Frank Albers (offensive line), Sean White (defensive line), Ray de Avila (quarterbacks), Jesse Sosebee (offensive line), Jason Hylland (running backs), Grant Frum (secondary), Antonio Rossi (defensive line), Justin Safford (linebackers), Eddie Steele (strength and conditioning), Ryan O’Donnell (equipment manager), Rachel Brannigan (trainer)

2018 season: 3-6-1 overall, 0-5 in the Sunset League (sixth place), missed the CIF Southern Section Division 7 playoffs

Offensive scheme: Spread

Defensive scheme: 3-4

Returning offensive starters: Six

Returning defensive starters: Seven

Returning with honors: Sr. WR Aidan Goltz, Sr. LB Johnny Brigandi, Jr. RB Justin McCoy, Sr. OL/DL Carter Mathisrud, Sr. LB Chad Koste

SCHEDULE

August

23 — vs. Woodbridge at University High

30 — at Aptos, 7:30 p.m.

September

6 — at Aliso Niguel

20 — vs. Santa Monica

27 — vs. San Marino

October

4 — vs. Fountain Valley*

11 — at Huntington Beach*

18 — vs. Los Alamitos*

25 — vs. Corona del Mar*

31 — vs. Edison*

*denotes league game

All games 7 p.m. unless noted

::

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