Three years ago, Travis Whitlock dreamed of today. He sat at Orange Coast College back then and watched a Costa Mesa High teammate play a football game in the summer.
Whitlock, like everyone else in the stands that night, was a fan.
Alex Swigert did not attend the game that evening. He finished his first season at Corona del Mar, looking for his shot to turn into a star.
Swigert eventually earned a chance to play a lot in his final two seasons. He just never thought he would stand out on the defensive side.
After four years, Whitlock and Swigert get to cap their high school careers on a high note. Tonight cannot get any better for them.
The recent graduates are the lone representatives from programs in the Newport-Mesa area chosen to play in tonight's 51st Brea Lions Orange County All-Star Game. The game kicks off at 7:15 at OCC.
The game means a lot to Whitlock, a lineman, and Swigert, a linebacker. Each has played at LeBard Stadium before while with their respective high school teams.
Nothing compares to their new team, which is loaded with talent. Whitlock and Swigert are members of the South All-Stars and they are facing the North All-Stars.
Being on the same side for the first time is a little different for Swigert and Whitlock. They competed against each other in games the previous two seasons.
What is familiar to both is the venue. The stadium is a few miles from where they live.
"When you're playing at OCC, it's usually a big deal," Swigert said. "It is a big spectacle. You're under the lights and you have all the fans."
The players plan to have a strong contingent rooting for them during the game. Whitlock by far has the largest at 25, while Swigert expects 10.
Family members, teammates, friends and coaches do not plan to miss the game. During the two weeks leading up to tonight, Costa Mesa Coach Jeremy Osso showed up to the South practices at Fountain Valley High.
Osso liked what he saw from Whitlock, a 6-foot-2, 270-pound guard and defensive tackle.
"He looked good," Osso said. "It was never a doubt whether Travis could play with those guys. We thought we had guys in the past that could've made this game."
Whitlock is the first player from Costa Mesa to earn a spot in the OC All-Star game since 2007. Whitlock remembers the last player fondly, having seen him up close and personal as a freshman.
Whitlock showed up to OCC to follow London Sapolu and check how he fared against the county's best. Whitlock said he remembers a strong effort turned in by Sapolu on the defensive line.
"That made me want to be the next Mesa player to go to the All-Star game," Whitlock said.
Much like how Sapolu played as a senior that year, Whitlock started both ways in his last year with the Mustangs. He dominated, earning the Orange Coast League Lineman of the Year award on defense.
As a center, Whitlock received All-CIF Southern Section Southern Division and Newport-Mesa Dream Team honors. He delivered 27 pancake blocks and helped Costa Mesa produce its first winning record in seven seasons.
Beside all the accolades, Whitlock said he felt intimidated on the first day of practice for the OC All-Star game.
"I didn't feel like I belonged because [the rest of the players] were all from good schools," Whitlock said. "Then I started getting the groove of things.
"My mom helped. She said, 'They picked you for a reason, so go out there and show them what you got.' "
Kathy's words affected her son. Whitlock has impressed John Shipp, the coach of the South, so much that Osso said it looks like Whitlock will start at left guard and rotate in and out at defensive tackle.
The football game will not be the last one for Whitlock. He plans to play for OCC next season.
Tonight is Swigert's last hurrah in pads. Swigert is bound for UC Santa Barbara, which does not have a football program.
The 6-1, 205-pounder wants to leave a mark, hopefully on players from the North. Swigert, who also ran the ball at CdM, expects to concentrate on defense in the All-Star game.
Swigert is a tackling machine.
"I don't like to get beat," Swigert said.
That is a big reason why Swigert, a sprinter, said he fell in love with defense after first wanting to carry the ball at CdM.
Swigert decided to chase down running backs. He performed at a high level as an inside linebacker in defensive coordinator Eric Johnson's 3-4 defense.
Swigert led the Sea Kings in tackles the past two seasons and received first-team All-Pacific Coast League and Newport-Mesa Dream Team laurels. Even though he won't wear his usual No. 28, count on Swigert to be around the ball.
"Another player totally snaked my number before I could get it," said Swigert, who went with No. 33. "Then the player decided to drop out of the game because of another commitment."
Nothing can keep Swigert and Whitlock away from tonight's game.