Jimmy Nolan has always had a fire that burns inside him for rebuilding football programs that have fallen on hard times.
Nolan now finds himself at Costa Mesa, perhaps facing his greatest challenge to date. He relishes the opportunity to produce a turnaround for the Mustangs.
His father, Jim, coached high school and junior high school kids in football at an orphanage called Maryville in Chicago. It was a quote from his father that Nolan used to describe the purpose that he has found in coaching.
“A warrior without a war will slowly start to die,” Nolan said. “I found the best war that I could find, and it has been mindboggling. It is a struggle every day, but if I don’t have that, I get bored.
“This is second to none as far as adversity goes, but I remember those times with such good memories of Football 101.”
Costa Mesa went 0-10 last season, and the opponent’s average margin of victory was by 46.4 points. One of the final memories of that season was a 75-0 defeat at the hands of crosstown rival Estancia in the Battle for the Bell.
The game eventually got lopsided enough that the Eagles took a knee three times in a row inside of the Costa Mesa two.
For the Mustangs, the last thing that they want to think about is the 2018 campaign.
“We’ve got scores to settle with all of the teams,” senior running back Bryan Hernandez said. “I don’t even like talking about last year. We have another year, our last year. Just give it our all this year.”
The first chance for the Mustangs to get even will come against Santiago on Friday night at Garden Grove High at 7. Costa Mesa and Santiago have faced each other every season since 2006, including a pair of first-round playoff games in 2008 and 2009.
If that is not enough to forge a rivalry, Nolan said that the Mustangs showed up to Santiago’s scrimmage at Ocean View on Aug. 22 and filmed plays from the sideline.
After seeing their team win a total of four games over the past three seasons, Costa Mesa’s senior class says it is time to rewrite their story.
“We follow Coach Nolan,” senior wide receiver Cory Richards said. “He knows what he’s doing. He’s getting us faster. We just got to know that speed is going to kill. We got to get out there, know that we’re conditioned, we’re faster, and we got to outplay them.
“We’ve watched three hard seasons, and we know that right now, this is our last chance to come together as a team and show them that we can play, show them that we’re not just the small guys from Costa Mesa that everyone can run over.”
The Mustangs carry a 16-game losing streak over the past two seasons. Their last winning season came in 2013, when Costa Mesa went 7-4 with Wally Grant as its head coach.
As Costa Mesa looks to change the culture and install belief, junior quarterback Nick Burton may emerge as a leader of that movement. The Marina transfer has a background in track and field, as well as a strong arm.
“Having Nick come in, he’s got a better outlook,” Nolan said. “He’s more optimistic. He doesn’t know what [going winless] feels like. He believes we’re going to win.”
Protecting Burton will be an experienced line that includes four seniors in center Andrew Camargo, guard Mark Blanco, and tackles Evin Douglas and Angel Mendoza.
Van Tuinei, a former defensive end who played four seasons in the NFL with the Bears, Chargers and Colts, is coaching the offensive line.
“I’m just really excited for this season,” Mendoza said. “There’s nothing more to lose. I feel like giving everything that we have, we can really be remembered here.”
Numbers may be down for Costa Mesa, but the camaraderie of the Mustangs’ offensive line has immediately stood out to their new head coach.
“One thing that impressed me the most was our line commitment,” Nolan said. “The line kids showed up, and I’ve always said, ‘You’re only as good as your line.’ Those guys are really together, and they’re very committed.”
Nolan wants to make the game fun again at Costa Mesa. At practice, he was seen wearing a custom shirt with a gold chain superimposed upon it. Inside of the dog tag, the word “Mesa” was written.
“The kids like it,” Nolan said. “I just want them to have fun, and I think they are.”
COSTA MESA MUSTANGS
CIF Southern Section Division: 14
Coach: Jimmy Nolan (first year)
Staff: Josh Cummings (running backs/secondary), Brandon Krause (receivers), Jon Totten and Gary Gonzalez (linebackers), Bill Lux (quarterbacks), Van Tuinei (offensive line), Marc Milan (defensive line)
2018 season: 0-10 overall, 0-5 in the Orange Coast League (last place)
Offensive scheme: Pro
Defensive scheme: 3-4
Returning offensive starters: Five
Returning defensive starters: Five
Returning with honors: Jr. MLB Ryan Bourbeau
30 — vs. Santiago at Garden Grove High
6 — vs. Loara
12 — vs. La Quinta at Bolsa Grande High
20 — vs. Los Amigos at Garden Grove High
27 — vs. Kennedy
3 — vs. Santa Ana* at Santa Ana Bowl
11 — vs. Orange*
18 — vs. Calvary Chapel*
25 — vs. Saddleback* at Segerstrom High
1 — vs. Estancia*
*denotes league game
All games 7 p.m.
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