NEWPORT BEACH — Newport Harbor High has the luxury of starting the football season later than most of the local teams.
The Sailors need the extra time with the amount of changes they are dealing with before kicking off the season at home against Trabuco Hills on Sept. 9.
Gone is linebacker Cecil Whiteside, the team's No. 1 player from last season.
Gone is running back Cedric Whitaker, the team's No. 2 player from last season.
Gone is Newport Harbor's 3-4 defense.
Only one first-team All-Sunset League player from a team that finished 6-5, 3-2 in the Sunset League, good for second place, and reached the first round of CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division playoffs last year returns.
That player is Parker Norton.
Newport Harbor benefits from the senior starting almost everywhere on the field. Norton will start at wide receiver, cornerback, return punts and kickoffs, and handle holding duties. He cannot do it all by himself.
Despite all the changes, Coach Jeff Brinkley expects the same out of his Sailors, who are ranked ninth in the Pac-5 preseason poll.
"I was in the meeting with the kids, they understand the expectations are always high around here," said Brinkley, whose team scrimmages at JSerra Thursday night at 7. "Anytime you're in a program that's had success, you expect to win football games."
Here is a position-by-position look at the Sailors:
Quarterback: Austin Rios starts for the second straight season for the Sailors. Brinkley is expecting the senior to put up better numbers than last season.
The stats turned in by Rios in his first year on the job were impressive, 1,274 yards and 15 touchdown passes, earning him second-team all-league honors.
Brinkley said Rios has grown an inch and now stands 6-foot-4. Rios is still thin at 180 pounds, but he throws an accurate ball. Rios completed close to 60% of his passes and only had four interceptions as a junior.
Brinkley said he felt Rios is not getting the respect he deserves in Orange County.
"To be honest with you, I'm surprised [he's not listed] as one of the top quarterbacks coming back," Brinkley said. "I think they put some guys that haven't even taken a snap of varsity football. He's going to be as good as anybody around.
"I can see him playing somewhere [in college]. It just depends on the year he has. If you want to be recruited, you've got to go and play great. It's pretty simple."
Backing up Rios is junior Cole Blower, who is in line to start next year.
Running backs: With Whitaker not returning after rushing for 1,003 yards and totaling 12 touchdowns last season, the Sailors plan to use three tailbacks.
Brinkley said expect to see senior Drew Diller, junior Buzzy Yokoyama and junior AJ Swies carrying the ball. Diller was hurt for most of last season and Yokoyama and Swies are inexperienced in the backfield on varsity.
Diller, Yokoyama and Swies are not as fast or as elusive as Whitaker, a first-team all-league performer last season. What matters to Brinkley is that the three are with the program, which Whitaker left in the summer for Oakland.
Brinkley has not talked with Whitaker, but he might have one player who has the ability to be the Sailors' next game-changer. His name is junior Titus Hasson.
Brinkley said Hasson moved in from the Las Vegas area and transferred to Newport Harbor last school year, but not in time for the football season. Brinkley said Hasson ran track and field for the Sailors and turned out to be the fastest sprinter.
"It's a long way away," Brinkley said whether the 6-1, 185-pound Hasson has a chance to take over the starting tailback job. "We haven't even seen him put on the gear yet. He's only played freshman ball."
Whoever earns the job, fullback Ryan Andrews will block for the running back.
The 6-1, 233-pound Andrews enters his third year as the starting fullback. Brinkley said Army has offered Andrews a scholarship, but he has not committed.
"He's kind of a rare cat because he's a fullback and you don't find a lot of true fullbacks anymore," Brinkley said. "Stanford uses a fullback. [Pittsburgh] uses a fullback. USC. Washington. All those kind of [schools] have interest in him. He's the guy that can catch the ball out of the backfield.
"We look for him to have a great year."
Receivers: Norton led the Sailors with 37 catches and four touchdowns last season.
Look for Norton to more than double last season's receiving-yard total of close to 300 yards. He is joined by Yokoyama, a deep threat, and senior Kellon Truxton.
Two other options are junior Kory Cablay and sophomore Landon Gyulay.
Brinkley said Truxton improved during the offseason and Gyulay gives Newport Harbor more athleticism after the 5-11, 170-pounder transferred from JSerra.
"He was [JSerra's] freshman most valuable player," Brinkley said of Gyulay, adding that he lived near Newport Harbor last year and decided to attend the local public school.
Tight end: Junior Vince Aqueveque gets the nod after backing up Ryan Iverson, a first-team all-league player last season.
"He's had a great summer catching the ball," Brinkley said of the 6-1, 205-pound Aqueveque.
When the offense goes into double tights, Steve Michaelsen will play.
Offensive line: Two starters return in senior right tackle Dillon Gillette and senior center Conner Miki.
The two tackle spots are Newport Harbor's strength, with Stanford-bound senior JB Salem (6-4, 258 pounds) starting at the left spot and protecting Rios' blindside. Gillette (6-2, 220) earned second-team all-league laurels last season.
The guards are senior Trever Lawrence (5-11, 210) and junior Ted Barry (6-1, 280). At 5-9, 215, Miki is the smallest of the group.
Defensive line: The Sailors' line is one of the biggest during Brinkley's 25 years at the school.
Salem is the three-technique, alongside senior Lucas Buckley, a 5-9, 257-pound transfer from Esperanza. The ends are 6-4, 230-pound Michaelsen and Mutuvai Asi, a 6-3, 237-pound transfer from Samoa.
Diller will also see time at defensive end, more depending on Asi's transition. Brinkley wants Asi to start because of Diller's running back duties.
"He's a little raw, but he'll be a good player," Brinkley said of Asi, a senior. "He moved here [from Samoa]. He actually had a cousin [Tala Teaupa] that played for us [last year and will play for us again this year].
"Obviously, the gear and everything we have is far superior to what [Asi's] used to, facilities, and the whole thing. It's a different environment for him. He's a good kid and has fit in really well."
Brinkley is hoping Salem is able to adjust to starting both ways.
"Physically and mentally it's going to be more of a challenge for him," Brinkley said. "But he's a good offensive lineman. He can probably be an offensive lineman in college."
Linebackers: Instead of starting four linebackers in the 3-4, Newport Harbor is moving to three in the 4-3. Andrews is back and he takes over at middle.
Senior Blair Luchs and junior Ethan Cochran are playing outside and starting for the first time. So far, Brinkley likes what he sees from the first-timers.
"I like the way they move around," Brinkley said. "They all get to the football and close pretty well."
Secondary: The Sailors are strong at cornerback and safety with Norton and Yokoyama returning.
Norton tied for the second most interceptions in the county last year with five. Yokoyama, the strong safety, can cover a lot of ground with his speed.
The free safety position will feature a new face. Brinkley said Hasson is ahead of Gyulay on the depth chart.
The other corner is senior Asa Lohr, who Brinkley said moved back to the area after living in Northern California last year.
"He played freshman football, JV football as a sophomore, and started for us, and then he moved," said Brinkley, who's happy to have Lohr back after losing Gabe Gomez, a first-team all-league performer last season, to graduation.
Special teams: The Sailors usually excel in this area, but they have to find someone to replace kicker/punter Dillan Freiberg, the Sunset League Kicker of the Year last season, Iverson at long-snapper, and Whitaker on kick returns.
Newport is going with two juniors, kicker Christian Ochoa and punter Jake Ambrose, in hopes they can duplicate Freiberg's success. Freiberg converted 71 consecutive extra-point kicks, the second longest streak in county history. He made 11 of 12 field-goal attempts and averaged 41.3 yards per punt last season.
Brinkley said both Freiberg and Iverson are attempting to walk on at Colorado.
Norton handles the punt-return duties after averaging 15.1 yards per return last season. He and Yokoyama are slated to return kicks, and Brinkley plans to work Hasson into the mix.
Yokoyama returned the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown in the first-round playoff game at Lakewood last season. He might be the Sailors' best answer to Whitaker, who after the second game of the season last year did not get to return many kickoffs after teams kicked away from Whitaker after he returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown.
Last season: 6-5, 3-2 in Sunset League (tied for second)
Coaching staff: Head Coach Jeff Brinkley (25th year, 202-83-3), Tony Ciarelli (defensive coordinator), Bill Brown (running backs), Bill Calloway (wide receivers), Matt Burns (linebackers), Chris Anderson (offensive line), Ryan Formento (OL), Garrett Govaars (defensive backs), Daniel Pulido (defensive line), Dartangan Johnson (linebacker and running backs), Stephanie Ciarelli (strength)
Returning starters: Five offense; five defense
9 - Trabuco Hills (home), 7 p.m.
17 - Loyola at Los Angeles Valley College, 7 p.m.
24 - Corona del Mar (home), 7 p.m.
1 - San Clemente (home), 7 p.m.
8 - at Mira Costa, 7 p.m.
15 - Huntington Beach* (home), 7 p.m.
21 - Los Alamitos* at Long Beach Veterans Stadium, 7 p.m.
29 – Edison* at Huntington Beach, 7 p.m.
4 – Marina* (home), 7 p.m.*
12 - Fountain Valley* at Huntington Beach, 7 p.m.
*Sunset League game