NEWPORT BEACH — The thick blue binders on a shelve inside Coach Jeff Brinkley’s office at Newport Harbor High are of last season’s schedule. Eleven games in all.
Each game is broken down to an exact football science.
Producing material for 14 games is the objective. The number means the Sailors will have reached the CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division championship game.
Brinkley and his staff are back at it again. They are preparing for the upcoming season, to put the Sailors in position to be successful.
This year marks a quarter of a century Brinkley will have coached at Newport Harbor. Only two current head coaches (Los Alamitos’ John Barnes and Valencia’s Mike Marrujo) in Orange County have been at their respective schools longer.
At age 57, Brinkley said he is not slowing down. Retirement, he has not even thought about it.
“As long as I’m excited about going to practice and getting them ready, I’ll be here,” said Brinkley, who is looking forward to improving on last season’s success: 6-5, 3-2 in the Sunset League and a first-round playoff appearance. “I still enjoy being around the players and coaches.
“I didn’t know [I would be here 25 years when I arrived in 1986]. You just take it one year at a time. I got good advice from [former NFL and college] coach [Mike] White back then. He just said, ‘Make this place the best you can make it.’ ”
Brinkley built a winner at Newport Harbor.
Under Brinkley, the Sailors have won 202 games, 33 of them in the playoffs and three coming in section title games. The expectation at Newport Harbor is always the same: to win.
Winning might not be as common this season at Newport Harbor.
The Sailors return five starters on each side of the ball, including senior JB Salem, a 6-foot-4, 258-pound lineman bound for Stanford.
Back on offense is quarterback Austin Rios, fullback Ryan Andrews, wide receiver Parker Norton, right tackle Dillon Gillette and center Conner Miki. One major performer from last season’s second-place team in the Sunset League is missing.
Running back Cedric Whitaker is not back.
The void in the backfield is one of two obstacles the Sailors face. The other is a challenging schedule.
Brinkley said the team has moved on after Whitaker was a no-show this summer and during fall practice. The loss of a 1,003-yard elusive rusher who totaled 12 touchdowns last season will affect any team.
“I think we’re like every program. You have a certain amount of fallout,” said Brinkley, who has not heard from Whitaker, a first-team all-league player who planned to return to Newport Harbor from Oakland in August and apply for a fifth-year senior hardship waiver with the CIF Southern Section. “But our philosophy has always been, ‘We’ll win with you, or without you. It might be easier with you, but we’re going to win whether you’re here or not.’ ”
Newport Harbor has won more often than not during Brinkley’s tenure.
He has a .707 winning percentage with the Sailors. Only twice has his program recorded a losing season.
With the stiff competition the Sailors have in the fall, finishing below .500 for the first time since 1995 is possible. Newport Harbor, ranked ninth in the Pac-5 preseason poll, has no cupcakes in the first five games.
The Sailors open the nonleague portion of the schedule on Sept. 9 at home with Trabuco Hills, a CIF Southern Section Southwest Division finalist in two of the last three seasons. The following week, Newport Harbor travels to Los Angeles Valley College to face Loyola, which is on the bubble of the CalHiSports.com top 50 teams to watch in the state.
In Week 3, Newport Harbor plays host to Back Bay rival Corona del Mar, followed by a home date against San Clemente, which is also on the CalHiSports.com bubble.
The Sailors close out nonleague against another program that reached a section final last season. Newport Harbor is at CIF Southern Section Western Division champion Mira Costa of Manhattan Beach.
The easiest contest for the Sailors might be the Sunset League opener at home against Huntington Beach. The Oilers return to the league after leaving it five years ago.
Out is Esperanza, which when the Aztecs joined the Sunset League in 1994, they finished on top eight times. There is a big drop from Esperanza and Huntington Beach.
The switch will increase Newport Harbor’s hopes of making the playoffs for the 19th time under Brinkley. From 1994 to 2005, Huntington Beach went 6-52-2 in the Sunset League.
Things will get tougher for the Sailors. They face Los Alamitos and defending league champion Edison in back-to-back weeks on the road. The Griffins are the 20th-ranked team in the state and the Chargers are No. 24.
“It doesn’t do you any good not to play good people and then go into league and be shell-shocked by somebody that moves at a faster speed. You have to play up in class,” said Brinkley, who is counting on the strength of schedule to help the Sailors return to the playoffs for the second straight season. “There’s no at-large team [getting into the playoffs] anymore because they changed the [Serra League and added a fifth team in Alemany of Mission Hills and the league receives three postseason berths].
“You’re either No. 1, 2, 3 [in the Sunset League], or you’re not in [the playoffs].”