There was a sense of family and community during a fundraising event for the Costa Mesa High football team and the school's cheerleaders Saturday night.
A group gathered to play pool at Classic Q in Newport Beach, where they also drank, ate, joked and talked about what could be a big season for the Mustangs' football team.
It would seem fair to say Costa Mesa football is amid adversity, but you wouldn't know it Saturday night. Of course most came to have a good time. Yet, there's a new coach at Costa Mesa. He's doing his best to take over with an interim tag after former coach Jeremy Osso was fired.
Osso had spent five seasons as coach of the Mustangs. Many of the players were attached to the coach, who is positive and altruistic. Most would think the Mustangs are now experiencing challenging times. But that does not appear to be the truth.
Grant is helping the Mustangs move on. The majority is saying he's doing a great job. From the looks of it, I must agree. On Saturday, he brought his family to mingle with the rest of his other family: the Mustangs.
Grant was happy that Matt McCoy attended as a special guest. The Seattle Seahawks linebacker is family too. He's the son of Grant's fiancé, Tammy McCoy. Matt played for Grant at Tustin High, where Grant was the defensive coordinator and where Matt became a defensive star.
"He was the one who put me at linebacker," Matt said of Coach Grant. "He taught me how to play linebacker. He was there from the beginning."
Matt said Grant is like family and his mother has become a part of Costa Mesa. Matt wanted to be there for his family. It didn't matter to him that Costa Mesa is not his alma mater. Matt enjoyed high school football and wanted to do what he could to help on Saturday. Many of the people there, including Principal Phil D'Agostino, were on the same page.
It would be very difficult to break the unity. A mother, Lynn Castro, told me that many of the football players this season have grown up together since kindergarten.
"This is where it all starts, with the kids," Matt said. "This is where you have all these dreams and everything. It's a good time, high school football. There were a lot of good times and a lot of good memories for me. Everyone went and did their own thing after high school, but when we see each other we are still tight."
In high school is where Matt met Grant. They are still tight.
"He made me a good coach," Grant said of Matt. "He had 18 sacks his junior year and 23 ½ sacks his senior year. He was a phenomenal player. He went to San Diego State on a full ride [scholarship], left his junior year and was a second-round pick for Philadelphia. He's worked hard and earned everything he's gotten. He's made the most of it. It's been fun watching him all these years."
When I spoke with Matt, the NFL was near the end of its lockout that was lifted Monday. Matt expressed his desire to get back to "playing ball."
"That's all I want to do," he said.
He then gave me a description of what it takes to be a linebacker. It can be applied to all that the Mustangs are going through as they prepare for the season.
"You have to be smart," Matt said. "You have to be one step of everybody else. You have to be prepared. You have to be tough."
Other notes gathered from Saturday night:
The Mustangs are trying to be tough during summer passing league games. Grant told me they've taken on a competitive schedule, playing against programs like JSerra, Los Alamitos and Centennial of Compton. Facing those types of teams will make you tough, even if it's only seven on seven.
Grant has been impressed and he's seen good progress. Some of the players have used the team's transition as motivation to improve.
Grant wants his players to compete with passion, but he's also instructing technique and preaching execution.
It appears the players are following his lead.
Some people asked me who I will pick between Costa Mesa and rival Estancia this season. Too early, I told them. I'll wait to give my pick in the days leading up to the Battle for the Bell game. But it should be closer than what most people might think.
Stuart Carr, from Scotland, won the Costa Mesa Football Boosters pool tournament and took home $200. He leaves for Scotland in a week. He came as a friend of Rob Dimel's. Dimel is vice president of Costa Mesa Police Assn. and wanted to support local sports. Dimel's cousin, Claire Elliott, is Carr's fiance. They will get married in Scotland later this year.
The rest of the competition probably wish Dimel didn't bring Carr.
The tournament was put on by Darlene Stinson and Robin Dodson, who both have played on women's pro circuits. They do not have children who attend Costa Mesa, but they are friends of Laurel Curet, a Costa Mesa booster.