NEWPORT BEACH — Ernie Johnson didn’t get to see the amount of weight football players benched or squatted at Newport Harbor High on Friday.
The players saw Johnson, a former coach, after the lift-a-thon that 6-foot-4, 305-pound junior lineman Ramsey Hufford won. Hufford is the lone member of the school’s 1,500-pound club, which includes the bench press, squat, power clean and snatch.
Johnson, a small guy, did a lot more heavy lifting in his one season with the Sailors 43 years ago.
Hufford and his teammates saw how much on a screen, in a documentary playing at the campus’ Loates Hall theater. They saw Johnson lift the 1970 football program to its first Sunset League title in 28 years.
The documentary, “Touchdown Newport,” told the story of how one man turned a bunch of surfers into football players, in just one year. Two members from that team, Randy Hamilton and Tony Horvath, directed and produced the documentary.
Showing the film to his team was important to the current coach, Jeff Brinkley. Many in attendance, including the coaching staff, saw it for the first time.
Brinkley had viewed the footage before, but he already knew Johnson. He played for him at Cerritos College, the year after Johnson left Newport Harbor.
Brinkley heard all the stories, mostly jokes about Johnson’s one-year stint with the Sailors from the actual source. How one of the player’s parents owned the nicest hotel in Brinkley’s hometown of Norwalk. How one player’s parents owned a Rolls-Royce and drove him to school in it. How no one from Johnson’s former high school, El Rancho in Pico Rivera, had ever seen such a car.
Well, Newport Harbor hadn’t seen a Sunset League crown since 1942. It was Johnson’s job to steer a bunch of privileged kids to a league championship. He had won a lot at his former stop, El Rancho, where he guided the school to CIF Southern Section Division 4-A titles in 1966 and ’68.
While Johnson didn’t stick around to lead the Sailors to a section crown, Brinkley said Johnson helped start Newport Harbor’s program.
“It just reinforces the great football tradition that’s at this school,” said Brinkley, who’s 60 and the only Newport Harbor coach to lead the football program to a section title, the first in 1994 and then again in ’99 and ’05. “To have those guys see that, I think it does two things, it makes them realize how fast the time is going to go, because they see these older guys now that our now [around] my age, how quickly it went for them and how much it meant to them, and how much winning those games were [to them]. Some of the big games, you know, [proved you could do] something that people didn’t think you could do.”
That game for the 1970 Newport Harbor team was the one against Anaheim. From 1951 to ’69, the Sailors had only beaten Anaheim once.
With Johnson in charge, the Sailors shut out perennial Sunset League champion Anaheim, 7-0. That season, Newport Harbor blanked half of its 10 opponents.
“They had a great defense,” said Tony Ciarelli, Newport Harbor’s current defensive coordinator.
Ciarelli would know about that stout defense. He played in 1970 for Huntington Beach, which lost to Newport Harbor, 13-0, in the regular-season finale.
Ciarelli and Brinkley are both in the film, talking about that magical season for the Sailors.
When the film ended and the credits stopped rolling, Brinkley stepped onto the stage and spoke into a microphone. He challenged his team to leave a mark next season with a memorable victory.
Brinkley has prevailed against a lot of teams during his 27 seasons with the Sailors. He has 220 victories to show with the Tars.
One team Brinkley’s Sailors haven’t prevailed against during his tenure is Edison. He mentioned Edison, a Sunset League team Newport Harbor last beat in 1979.
If there’s one coach to rally his players for a big win, it’s Brinkley.
“Ernie and I, we’re both kind of the same,” Brinkley said of their hard-nosed coaching styles. “I had watched Ernie coach when I was a young kid because my older brother [Steve] played and El Rancho was in the league with [his team]. I knew all about El Rancho.”
Now, Brinkley’s players know all about Ernie Johnson.