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Newport Harbor football, back on the big stage, attends CIF press luncheon

Members of the Newport Harbor High football team at the Grand in Long Beach on Monday.
Members of the Newport Harbor High football team Nathan Peters, from left, Connor Chenier, Grayson Simon, A.J. Guitron-Moore and head coach Peter Lofthouse during the 45th annual CIF Southern Section football press luncheon at the Grand in Long Beach on Monday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The seniors on the Newport Harbor High football team were only toddlers in 2005, the last time the Sailors won a CIF Southern Section title. It’s been a while for the proud program.

Now, however, the Sailors are back in the spotlight as they prepare to play in the CIF Southern Section Division 6 championship game.

Newport Harbor participated in the 45th annual CIF Southern Section Press Conference Luncheon on Monday at the Grand in Long Beach. Finalists from each division were invited, and the Sailors made it after last week’s exciting 20-19 semifinal win over Compton Dominguez.

Head coach Peter Lofthouse and four seniors — quarterback AJ Guitron-Moore, outside linebacker Connor Chenier and offensive and defensive linemen Grayson Simon and Nathan Peters — attended representing the school, as well as Principal Sean Boulton and Athletic Director Jerry Murray.

“It’s just a great opportunity,” Lofthouse said. “It’s been a long time since Newport Harbor has been in this situation, so hopefully we go out there and put together a good game. We always said at the beginning of the season that one of our goals was to be practicing on Thanksgiving Day. We have that opportunity. We’re playing a great team in Temecula Valley, so we’ve got to work hard this week.”

The attendees listened to former San Diego Chargers star running back LaDainian Tomlinson, an NFL Hall of Famer and the luncheon’s keynote speaker, talk about reaching one’s finest hour and the dedication required to get there.

LaDainian Tomlinson speaks during the 45th annual CIF Southern Section football press luncheon at the Grand in Long Beach.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

No. 3-seeded Newport Harbor (6-7), which plays at No. 4 Temecula Valley (10-3) in the Division 6 title game Saturday at 7:30 p.m., certainly knows about overcoming adversity. The Sailors had their third game of the season against JSerra postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test within the program and contact tracing.

Once the Sailors made it to the always difficult Sunset League, they finished fourth, ending the regular season with a 3-7 record.

“You look at what we had to go through,” Lofthouse said. “We played one Division 1 team [Los Alamitos], four Division 2 teams [Edison, Corona del Mar, JSerra and Yorba Linda] and then a combination of Division 3 and 4 teams.”

Lofthouse noted that the Sailors’ playoff wins have included Sunny Hills and Santa Barbara, who played each other for the Division 9 title in 2019, as well as a quality Dominguez program.

“The challenges and the adversity that we fought through to get here, it makes it satisfying,” he said.

Members of the Newport Harbor High football team attend the 45th annual CIF Southern Section football press luncheon.
Members of the Newport Harbor High football team attend the 45th annual CIF Southern Section football press luncheon at the Grand in Long Beach on Monday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

There was some question if Newport Harbor would make the postseason at all. Not only did they do that, but they’re peaking at the right time.

It’s not lost on the senior class that this is the first four-year class for Lofthouse, who was hired in 2018 to take over for 32-year head coach Jeff Brinkley.

“It’s been a long journey through our school and this program,” Simon said. “There’s been a lot of changes around us, from a new coaching staff to a new weight room, new facility. Now we get to use all that in a productive way to get to where we wanted to be, which was the final game. We have an opportunity to get that ring, and it just feels great.

“It would mean a lot for the community. The community of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, it’s all close-knit around football. Just to be able to represent them in a good light, we want to show them that we can battle. It doesn’t matter what we face, we’ll stay out there and keep battling the whole time, as long as it takes.”

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