Sea Kings to be battle tested

On the last double day at Corona del Mar High, Coach Scott Meyer planned a bonfire at the beach with 17 seniors and his staff.

The number of seniors was smaller than on last year's football team. That just meant there weren't as many mouths to feed.

Nine days before CdM kicked off the season, the seniors and coaches gathered to bond.

"It's another special deal for these seniors to remember," Meyer said.

Meyer's first year at CdM is the final one for the seniors at the school. The new coach and veteran players plan to make the season a memorable one.

Expectations are high at CdM, which enters the season ranked fourth in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division poll. There is someone new in charge, but the goals are the same.

Contend for a Pacific Coast League title. Make a run at a section title.

Does Meyer have the talent, four starters return on offense and five on defense, to reach the objectives?

He believes the Sea Kings can defend their league crown and get over the playoff hurdle the team has stumbled at recently. The Sea Kings' season ended in the semifinals in two of the past three seasons under Jason Hitchens.

"That is obviously the goal," Meyer said of leading the Sea Kings to a section final appearance, their first in 22 years.

"I might be a little biased, but I believe [the Pacific Coast League] is the toughest league in that division. They had three teams [from our league] in the semis last year and I wouldn't be surprised if that happened again."

The pollsters have four teams from the Pacific Coast League in the top five in the Southern Division.

Beckman, last year's section runner-up, is No. 1, Northwood, a semifinalist last season, is No. 3, and Woodbridge is No. 5. The Sea Kings are in the mix and they expect to be at the end.

The following are the players who hope to keep CdM in the hunt.

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Quarterback: Brent Lawson moves up to starter in his senior year. He leads the spread offense, which Mitch Gardner ran well last year.

Last season, Lawson backed up Gardner, a Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Dream Team pick, who led the area with 1,635 yards and 19 touchdowns through the air.

Gardner helped the Sea Kings to a record of 10-2-1 overall, 4-0-1 in league. The 10-win season was the fourth in the program's history. The outright league title was CdM's first since 1988.

Lawson, a 5-foot-11, 180-pounder, might have as much success out of the shotgun formation.

With new offensive coordinator Kevin Hettig, formerly at El Toro, Lawson showed off his arm in CdM's scrimmage against Costa Mesa last week. He threw for 135 yards and three touchdowns on six-of-eight passing. Junior Cayman Carter will back up Lawson.

Another part of Lawson's body that impresses Meyer is his head.

"He's so dang smart," said Meyer, adding that Lawson is going to Yale next year to play baseball. "On top of that, he can hurt you with his arm or his feet."

Running backs: The Sea Kings have a 1,000-yard rusher in senior Erik Fisher.

Fisher split time in the backfield last year with Clay Reinhardt, who is now a walk-on freshman at the University of Nevada. Meyer plans to use Fisher a lot.

When he got his chances last season, Fisher shined. He recorded 210 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in a 35-24 victory against Woodbridge, moving CdM into first place in league with two league games left.

Junior Kai Wilson will spell Fisher, a second-team all-league member last year. Wilson was on junior varsity last year.

"They're pretty similar," Meyer said of Wilson and Fisher. "They're both pretty physical runners, kind of slashers."

Senior Aaron White will be the fullback on the rare times the offense goes to a two-back formation.

Receivers: The offense lost a lot of production and speed when Dream Team members Reinhardt and Brent Gray graduated. The Sea Kings hope to make it up with size.

Juniors Troy Reese (6-3) and Chris Johnstone (6-2) give Lawson big targets.

"We're really happy with those guys," Meyer said. "Both go up and get the ball."

Slot receivers Cole Cottrell and Josh Giger are the ones who will run under the ball. The seniors will share time at the position because they also start at cornerback.

Tight end: Not much has changed at this position. Matt English, a second-team all-league pick last year, is the starter for the third straight year.

What has changed is his height, he grew an inch and is 6-2, his weight, put on 20 pounds and is 220, and his jersey number, from No. 1 to No. 44. He definitely looks bigger now.

Grant Garrett, a senior, is the backup.

Offensive line: Eric Salazar, a longtime coach, who was recently at Mission Viejo, has turned the Sea Kings' front five into a solid bunch.

Two starters return in Liam Duddy, a 6-3, 225-pound senior right tackle, and Caden Stark, a 6-1, 265-pound senior center. The rest of the line consists of junior left tackle Nick Storm (6-2, 227), senior left guard Hunter Molnar (5-11, 195) and sophomore right guard Giovanni Gentosi (6-2, 215).

"We aren't huge," Meyer said, "but they all move pretty well."

Defensive line: The defense moves to a 3-3 stack under new defensive coordinator Dan O'Shea. He has had success in the past with the scheme, spending six years at Trabuco Hills, which reached the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division final in 2009 and 2007 and the semifinals in 2006 and 2008.

The defense features three linemen. In the Sea Kings' case, all juniors, defensive end Tim Reinhardt (6-2, 222), nose guard Michael Martinez (5-10, 195) and defensive tackle Greg Williford (6-0, 215).

"We like our ability to attack out of the 3-3 stack and give the offense some different looks out of it," Meyer said.

Linebackers: The 3-3 stack is a great defense for linebackers and Meyer is happy with his senior group.

White, a first-team all-league performer last season, returns at outside linebacker. White, a 6-foot, 195-pounder, elevated his play late last season and finished with 58 tackles, four sacks and one interception.

Grant Garrett, who is 6-1, 210 pounds, is the middle linebacker. He replaces Preston Risser, who excelled in the inside, earning the All-CIF Southern Section Southern Division Defensive Player of the Year award last year as a senior.

David Moore, who saw some action last year, will be one of the stack guys over the defensive end. Frasier Anderson is the other linebacker.

Secondary: Outside of Cottrell, an All-CIF Southern Section Southern Division cornerback last year, Meyer was unsure about the depth in the secondary.

Meyer said he has players back there now with Cottrell, who broke up 12 pass plays, defended 28 passes, intercepted three passes, made 49 tackles and forced two fumbles as a junior.

At the other cornerback spot is Giger. Fisher, junior Ryan Griffin and sophomore Andrew Larsen will be backups.

The safeties are seniors Kyle Sherburne and John Swigert. Sherburne played outside linebacker last season.

Special teams: Cottrell and Fisher give CdM threats returning punts and kickoffs.

Cottrell averaged almost 25 yards per kickoff return last year. Cottrell will be back on kickoffs with Fisher and primarily return punts.

The Sea Kings lost standout kicker Andrew Boehm, an All-CIF Southern Section Southern Division member, to graduation. Garrett and sophomore Luke Napolitano are battling for the job in which Boehm converted an area-best 12 field goal attempts and 40 extra-point kicks last year.

Garrett is handling the punting duties for now.

"Grant's a full-time linebacker, so it would be nice if Luke could eventually do both just to give Grant a little bit of a blow," said Meyer, adding that Sherburne is the long snapper.

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