Mesa looks for continued success

It was a program that hadn't made the playoffs in four years before Jeremy Osso took over in 2006.

Now, the Costa Mesa High football team is looking for its fourth playoff berth in a row in 2010.

The Mustangs will also try to win their third Orange Coast League title in the last four years.

"We're physical," Osso said. "We're definitely hitting. We obviously lost some key guys, but we feel confident that our guys can help continue our three-year playoff run and make it a fourth. We think we'll be in the hunt for [a] league [title] again."

If they do it, it will happen in spite of an offense that starts the year without a ton of experience. Here's a position-by-position look at the 2010 Mustangs:

Quarterback: Mesa lost last year's starter, Todd Davis, to graduation after he threw for 1,713 yards and 13 touchdowns and earned first-team All-Orange Coast League status. His backup a year ago, junior Nathan Alvis (6-feet, 170 pounds) moves into the starting role.

Alvis only attempted five passes last year, but he is dangerous on the run as well.

"He learned a lot under Todd, but he brings a different style of play," Osso said. "I don't want to compare anybody to two Hall-of-Famers, but it's like Joe Montana to Steve Young. [Alvis] is a guy who's a little more athletic, and left-handed, too. Nathan's more willing to break the pocket and go. As a matter of fact, in mop-up duty last year, he ran for 105 yards on seven carries. He ended up being like the fifth-leading rusher on our team last year and it was all when the game was over."

The Mustangs' backup quarterback is senior Tyler Sheffner (5-9, 195), who will typically play fullback.

"He played quarterback as a freshman and he's got a cannon for an arm," Osso said.

Running backs: The Mustangs plan to start senior Julian Marquez (6-0, 170) and junior Jake Comer (6-2, 190) as running backs in their double-wing formation. Marquez is more used to playing in the secondary and even receiver but filled in at running back on a limited basis last year.

"We made it his permanent home this year because he's real athletic, and our tailback is generally the focal point of our offense," Osso said.

Comer was one of the leaders on the junior varsity last year, Osso said, and has great hands.

Sheffner, meanwhile, returns at fullback, though he missed Friday's scrimmage with an ulcer. He was the Mustangs' leading rusher last year (699 yards and three touchdowns), although Osso said he was a bit overlooked as Mesa went to the air more.

"He's one of the kids who's willing to do whatever he has to do to help the team win," Osso said. "He's built like a tank back there. He's not going to surprise you with his speed, but linebackers that take him for granted are going to pay."

Senior DaSean Grayson (5-9, 165), the Mustangs' fastest player who runs around 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash, will also get time at all three positions. Osso said the team is looking for creative ways to get him the ball.

Senior Gilbert Quinones (5-8, 170) and sophomore Jose Villapondo (5-11, 200) will add depth. Osso said Villapondo has a lot of potential as a physical rusher.

Receivers: Lost to graduation are mainstays Brian Waldron and Luis Gomez, who combined for 81 of the Mustangs' 115 catches last year. Osso said two junior varsity guys from a year ago, juniors Jordan Walden (5-9, 165) and Trace Curet (6-0, 170) are slated to start.

Curet is a converted tailback, while Osso said Alvis and Walden really built a good connection in summer passing league.

"Jordan just runs fantastic routes," Osso said.

Senior Nick Guzowski (6-3, 180) and sophomore Noah Jayarajah (5-11, 160) will also see time at receiver. The Mustangs don't utilize a tight end out of their double-wing formation.

Offensive line: It all starts with 6-foot-8, 285-pound Andrew Albers, who will move from left tackle to right tackle this year. Albers is a returning first-team All-Orange Coast League selection and has been courted by, among others, USC, UCLA and Notre Dame. He didn't give up a single sack last year in 238 pass attempts.

"Because of who we are, it's always hard to get the exposure," Osso said. "But when you have a guy who's 6-8, 285, that exposure just kind of comes no matter what. It has been nice to be able to have colleges coming around … Andrew is just a skinny guy, but he's finally starting to look like he's putting on size."

Sophomore Oscar Reyes (5-7, 215), who Osso called a "fireplug," will play right guard, and senior Kyle Haberman (5-11, 220) will play center. Osso said Haberman nearly became starting center last year before he got sick, but he and Albers both spent some time in the off-season at Jesse Sapolu's lineman camp at Edison.

Osso is pleased to have a very strong left side of the line as well, with junior Christian Contreras (6-0, 235) at guard and Segerstrom transfer Charles Mankin (6-3, 265), also a junior, at tackle. Osso said Contreras, coming back from a knee injury, has really impressed in summer camp and has the classic nasty lineman mentality.

Backup guards will be seniors Nick Cendoya and Roberto Ramirez, with Haberman and senior Matt Pederson backing up at tackle. Reyes is the backup center.

Defensive line: The Mustangs will try to replace Travis Whitlock, who also played on the offensive line and was the league's Lineman of the Year last season after leading the team with 94 tackles as well as eight sacks. Three guys are in the mix at end, including senior Tyler Biggs (5-11, 180), who will also play outside linebacker. Cendoya and senior Alex McCormick (6-3, 190) are the others in the mix.

Ramirez is slated to start at noseguard, and Haberman and Mankin will be in a rotation at tackle.

"Our defense is more predicated on speed than size," Osso said of the defense implemented by first-year coordinator Wally Grant. "We put the fastest, toughest guys on the defense."

Linebackers: Senior Ryan Barnett (5-10, 175) returns and will start at middle linebacker.

"He had a little bit of reps last year as an outside linebacker," Osso said. "He's really taking on a leadership role. He's done a lot better job at trying to be a captain and help guys out. He's really become a student of the defense."

The hard-nosed Quinones plays the "flex" position, an inside 'backer who lines up a little closer to the line of scrimmage.

Biggs is in the mix at outside linebacker, as well as Comer, who has impressed despite missing much of the summer with high-ankle sprain.

"The effort we get out of [Comer] on the field is phenomenal," Osso said.

Secondary: Marquez, a second-team all-league pick a year ago, returns at strong safety. His 82 tackles last year were fourth on the team, but tops among returners. He will be backed up by senior Josue Garces (5-9, 155).

"[Marquez] is just a phenomenal football player," Osso said. "We could put Julian at corner, free safety, the Mike 'backer. We could put him anywhere on the field and feel comfortable with it."

Free safety is the sophomore Jayarajah. Osso said there was concern if he could be physical, but that was answered in the first summer passing league game when he knocked a Brea Olinda receiver out of the game.

Guzowski and Walden are starting cornerbacks, but Grayson will also be in the mix as well as senior Saul Romero (5-7, 150).

Special teams: There's a competition at kicker between junior Peter Marquez and sophomore Jake Lux, both of whom play soccer and have very strong legs.

"Worst-case scenario, one will kick and one will punt," Osso said. "Right now, it's Peter doing both."

Walden will return punts and Marquez, Walden, Guzowski and Grayson will all be returning kickoffs.

Alvis is the holder, with Curet long-snapping for punts and Haberman for field goals.

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