The Estancia High football team got plenty of good ink last year on the way to capturing its first outright league title in 21 years.
Star tailback Robert Murtha spent part of the off-season getting a good amount of ink permanently placed on his upper right arm.
Murtha got a large tattoo with the word "Boy." It's the name he's called by his father, Robert Sr., who Coach Mike Bargas said did the tattoo. Around the "Boy" lettering are what Murtha said are Filipino tribal designs.
"This is brand new," Murtha said, showing the tattoo at a recent practice. "It's mainly for my family and my heritage."
Murtha did not play like just a boy his sophomore year, when the Orange Coast League Offensive Player of the Year rushed for a school-single-season-record 1,679 yards and 19 touchdowns in his first year on the varsity. He even earned All-CIF Southern Section honors as a punter, helping the Eagles excel in special teams.
The fact Murtha is back for his junior year excites fifth-year coach Mike Bargas. Bargas also gets back senior left tackle Zach Bateman, who also earned All-CIF honors and shared the league's Lineman of the Year honors.
Add in junior running back Deionte Haywood, who shined for the undefeated junior varsity a year ago, and Bargas has reasons for optimism. But he's aiming at breaking a streak that's lasted even longer than the outright league title drought — Estancia has not won a CIF playoff game since 1980.
"I'll be honest with you, Beckman took it to us," Bargas said of last year's 56-22 home loss in the first round of the CIF Southern Division playoffs. "We thought going into that playoff game that we might be able to do some things, and they spanked us pretty good. But instead of lingering on it, the kids look at that as a challenge. We got to play the team that made it to the final. [The Patriots] didn't win in the final, but they had to go through our door to get there. They just kind of shattered the door on us. But if you want to be the best, you've got to play the best."
Bargas has ensured that with his team's nonleague schedule. Estancia even scrimmages at a bigger school — Irvine — on Friday at 10 a.m. before opening its regular season at Bolsa Grande on Sept. 9.
And, for the second straight year, Estancia will play three traditionally tough Irvine teams — University (Sept. 23), Northwood (Sept. 29) and Beckman (Oct. 6) —in a row. This time, at least the games are all at Jim Scott Stadium.
Northwood made it to the Southern Division semifinals in 2010, losing to eventual champion Garden Grove. Bargas called it a "necessary evil" to play the tough schedule.
"Obviously we want to be league champs again, and it'd be great if we were undefeated [in league] again," he said. "We want to raise the bar. We want to win league, we want to beat Costa Mesa, but I think our biggest thing is we want to go to the playoffs and we want to make it deep. It has been decades since this football program has been able to accomplish that. We want to create tradition; we don't want to be one-hit wonders. The kids are gunning for that.
"My thing is not to beat Costa Mesa, my thing is to get a league championship again and go deep in the playoffs. That's the only way we're going to get some of that respect that I think we deserve for the Orange Coast League. They're kind of the welcome mat of everybody, and I came here to change that … I want Estancia to be known as a good football program, and then maybe achieve that greatness level."
Veteran defensive coordinator Dave Holland, a former longtime head coach at Corona del Mar High, also returns. Estancia's defensive line also has plenty of experience, returning three of four starters in senior Andy Ugalde and junior Kevin Peters at defensive end, plus Kevin's older brother, Alipa, at tackle. The other returning starter on defense is senior outside linebacker Ozzy Magana.
Alipa Peters had a memorable summer, going with Bargas to the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony in Canton, Ohio as part of the Legacy Leadership Project program.
Bateman, who at 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds said he has received letters of interest from several Pac-12 schools, went to the USC linemen camp in June. He said he also sees a memorable fall in the Eagles' future.
"No doubt about it in my mind," Bateman said. "I'm real excited to see how it plays out. I've got trust in my entire offense. Murtha trusts us linemen, and we trust him, so we'll get it done no matter what."