As many in the Newport Beach community do, Justin McCoy grew up going to Battle of the Bay high school football games between Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar.
McCoy sat on the Newport Harbor side of the field. Like most boys his age, he had a favorite player that he liked to watch. Cole Kinder, the Sailors’ featured running back who graduated in 2017, was that player.
“I would always come to the Battle of the Bay games, and I would see Cole Kinder, who was the running back here that set all of the records,” McCoy said. “When I was younger, I just remember [thinking], ‘I want to be him and break all of his records.’ He was balling out when I came to the games.”
Kinder, who played for the Sailors from 2014-16, holds the program’s career mark with 4,041 rushing yards. He also has the single-game rushing record with 337 rushing yards in a 62-35 win over Marina on Oct. 28, 2016.
When McCoy entered the program, it was unclear if he would get the opportunity to play a prominent role in the Sailors’ backfield. As a sophomore, then first-year coach Peter Lofthouse had McCoy lined up at safety.
The Sailors would lose starting running back Colin Gregg to a torn ACL in a season-opening win against Redwood City Sequoia. A knee injury to Jake Keliikoa against Santa Monica that year in the Sailors’ fourth game of the season would turn into an opportunity for McCoy to receive the lion’s share of the carries.
Newport Harbor went 3-6-1 overall and 0-5 in Sunset League play last season. Year two under Lofthouse has seen a dramatically different turn, and McCoy is a big reason why.
McCoy rushed for 192 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-24 home victory over Fountain Valley in a Sunset League opener on Oct. 4. That win took the Sailors to a 6-0 start for the first time since 1994.
The junior running back gave credit to his offensive line of Carter Mathisrud, Eriq Hilliard, Brody Bradfield, Cole McCunniff and Grayson Simon for helping him get to the second level of the defense. McCoy ran for scores of 55, 45, 16 and four yards against the Barons.
Due to a knee strain for starting quarterback Cole Lavin, the Sailors went away from their run-pass option offense with JSerra transfer Nick Kim drawing the start. He threw for 300 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown to Austin Muro.
“Nick Kim is more of a pocket passer,” McCoy said. “He has the reads downfield, and he is a very accurate passer. He doesn’t have much mobility, but he can throw the ball very well, like a Drew Brees.”
On the season, McCoy has amassed 557 rushing yards, 219 receiving yards and 59 punt return yards. He also has 10 rushing touchdowns.
“A lot of what we do is really predicated on his ability,” Lofthouse said of McCoy. “He’s not just hand the ball off and run the football. We can throw it out to him in the flats. We ask him to pass [protect]. He picks up blitzes.
“He really is a major focal point of our offense. Justin is a kid that you can’t just leave four or five guys in the box and think that you’re good.”
Coincidentally, the Sailors are putting together a special season at the same time that a book is out honoring the 1994 team, which went 14-0 in claiming the program’s first CIF Southern Section title. Richard Dunn wrote the book entitled, “14 Weeks: The Most Improbable High School Football Season in History.”
“What they did in ‘14 Weeks’ with Coach [Jeff] Brinkley going 14-0 in 1994 is a heck of an accomplishment,” said Lofthouse, who took over for Brinkley in 2018. “We’re very excited as a school and as a football program to be in this position, being 6-0.
“It’s really a turning point for the program in terms of the success we’re experiencing. It’s also really neat that you’ve got the special significance of the 25 years since the 14-0 season.”
Lofthouse said that the Sailors plan to recognize the 1994 championship team when Newport Harbor plays host to Los Alamitos on Oct. 18.
McCoy has enjoyed the enthusiasm surrounding the program this year.
“The student section is packed and just going crazy,” McCoy said. “The Tar Pit, they’re wild. All of the parents, there are just more people, and it’s just a better atmosphere.
“There is more excitement. More talk about football around town, too.”
Newport Harbor, ranked No. 2 in the Division 9 poll, will play its final road game of the regular season at Huntington Beach (1-5, 0-1 in league) on Friday at 7 p.m. The Sailors finish out league play with home games against Los Alamitos, Corona del Mar and Edison.
The Sailors are determined not to leave their fate in the hands of anyone else this season. Newport Harbor is looking to make the postseason for the first time since 2014.
“We really talked a lot about this before the season, saying, ‘We want this season, and our hopes of making the playoffs, in our own hands,’” Lofthouse said. “We wanted to control our own destiny.
“Six wins, we feel good about [our chances of making the playoffs], but still, crazier things have happened. We just keep focusing on one game at a time.”
Born: Dec. 31, 2002
Hometown: Newport Beach
Height: 5 feet 10
Weight: 180 pounds
Coach: Peter Lofthouse
Favorite food: Tacos
Favorite movie: “Avengers: Endgame”
Favorite athletic moment: In his first significant varsity action at running back as a sophomore, McCoy rushed for 87 yards, including the game-winning touchdown with six seconds remaining, as visiting Newport Harbor defeated Santa Monica 28-21 on Sept. 14, 2018.
Week in review: McCoy rushed for 192 yards and four touchdowns in the Sailors’ 38-24 win over Fountain Valley on Oct. 4 in a Sunset League game at Davidson Field. He finished the game with 229 total yards of offense.
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