Coach Jeff Brinkley has a wealth of experience on the high school varsity level.
Most of his football players at Newport Harbor High don't.
This season marks Brinkley's 26th with the Sailors. He said it has been a while since he went into a season with only a handful of returning starters.
"We lost a good number of starters, but that's high school football," said Brinkley, who has a new starter at quarterback, running back, fullback, two at wide receiver and four on the offensive line. "This is probably a few less than we usually have, but I think we got a good nucleus and I like the work ethic of this group.
"Our guys expect to win. That's one thing that we got going for us."
The message has always been the same at Newport Harbor under Brinkley. Compete and expect to win.
The program has won more games than it has lost in the past 25 years, going 208-88-3. During the long stretch, Newport Harbor has only turned in two losing seasons.
The Sailors plan to keep the winning tradition alive and make the CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division playoffs for a third straight year. If they do, it will be Brinkley's 20th postseason appearance.
Brinkley will rely heavily on three seniors, defensive end Steve Michaelsen, outside linebacker Ethan Cochran and free safety Titus Hasson. The three started on defense last year, but Brinkley's asked two of them for services on offense this year.
Cochran and Hasson are both in the backfield after standout running back Buzzy Yokoyama transferred to Mission Viejo High for his senior year and junior tailback Talalelei Teaupa broke his collarbone in practice last week. Two seniors blocking for Cochran and Hasson are the lone returning starters on offense, right guard Ted Barry and tight end Vince Aqueveque.
Newport Harbor needs the veterans if it wants to secure one of the Sunset League's three automatic berths into the playoffs. None of the teams cracked the Pac-5 Division preseason poll, but that doesn't mean the league isn't tough.
"It's just one those leagues where anybody can't beat anybody. That's why it's really hard [to predict how the teams will finish in league]," said Brinkley, who gave Edison and Los Alamitos, the defending champion, the nods as the league favorites. "[For] some [teams], it's matchups. Some [teams] play better against other [teams]. We've always played Los Al really well up until [last] year. Other [teams like Los Alamitos] play Edison well. It's one of those leagues … [where you can] have three-way ties, one year, a five-way tie [for first place]."
That happened three years ago, when the Sailors claimed a share of the league crown.
Here are the players hoping to turn Newport Harbor into a surprise contender in league:
Quarterback: Cole Blower gets his shot to be the signal caller as a senior.
In his only start last year, Blower led the Sailors to a 28-6 victory against Huntington Beach in a league opener. He started after senior Austin Rios sat out because he suffered a concussion in a game the previous week.
"That was good [experience] for him and that should help with his confidence," said Brinkley of Blower, who threw for 146 yards and two touchdowns on 10-of-15 passing without an interception. "He got to play a couple of games, probably three quarters of the game against Mira Costa [of Manhattan Beach].
"He's been under fire."
Blower's backups, junior Zach Wade and sophomore J.J. Brooks, haven't seen any action at the position on varsity.
Running backs: The team went into camp with a running-back-by-committee after losing Yokoyama, a first-team all-league performer last year, when he rushed for 1,250 yards and 12 touchdowns.
One week into camp, the Sailors lost another running back. This time, to an injury.
Brinkley expects Teaupa to miss the first five nonleague games of the season because he broke his collarbone in practice.
The offense turns to Cochran and Hasson, two players who didn't carry the ball last season, and senior AJ Swies, who was out most of last season with a knee injury. Cochran has more experience carrying around a discus than a football.
"A 230-pound tailback," Brinkley calls Cochran, a 6-foot-1 physical runner, who won the discus throw event at the CIF State track and field finals as a junior. "Then we got Titus, who's the fastest [player] on our team.
"Swies is in the mix. [He was] really good as a freshman. He's suffered some injuries. He's on the mend right now."
Senior Grant Frazier is expected to start at fullback, with senior Dalton Jensen backing him up.
Receivers: Early in camp, Brinkley and his staff realized a significant missing part from last year's offense.
"I don't think we really have the one go-to guy," said Brinkley, referring to Parker Norton, the Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Dream Team Player of the Year, who is a preferred walk-on player at Colorado after he finished with 64 catches for 569 yards and five touchdowns as a senior.
"We got a lot of guys that are about the same. We have a good package. [The ball is] probably going to be spread out a little bit more in terms of catches."
Along with Norton, Kellon Truxton, a first-team all-league receiver, is gone.
Brinkley said he would line up Hasson at receiver as well because the 6-1, 201-pounder can stretch the field with his speed. The other two receivers are senior Kory Cablay and junior Landon Gyulay.
When the team goes to four wideouts, senior Blake Bell will get time. At 6-3, Bell is the tallest of the group.
Tight end: Out of all of the Sailors, Brinkley said Aqueveque has the best hands. The Sailors want use them more in the passing game.
"Hopefully, we get the ball in his hands more this year," said Brinkley of Aqueveque, a 6-1, 190-pounder, who was used more as a blocker last season.
In double tight end packages, Michaelsen comes in as the second tight end.
Offensive line: What Sam Bush (6-5, 290) and Ramsey Hufford (6-4, 301) don't lack in size they do in experience.
Bush and Hufford are sophomores and the starting left and right tackles. This is new under Brinkley, starting two youngsters at tackle.
But he likes what he sees so far in Bush.
"He's going to be really good," Brinkley said. "By the time he graduates, if he keeps progressing, he'll be a Division I football player."
Barry (6-1, 286) returns and will play right guard. The other guard is senior Hamilton Randle (6-1, 230), who filled in for Dillon Gillette last year, when the Dream Team right tackle missed time with an injury.
Max Heilig, a 6-2, 265-pound senior, is the center.
Defensive line: Michaelsen highlights the front four and the Sailors expect big things out of the 6-5, 240-pounder.
"He's blocked more passes probably than any guy we've ever had," Brinkley said of Michaelsen, who has offers from Air Force and Army, and several Pacific 12 Conference schools are recruiting him. "He's got length and he's got long limbs. He's probably a step faster maybe than he was last year getting off the ball."
Michaelsen's presence ensures that the defense will be the strength of the team.
Unlike in previous years, longtime defensive coordinator Tony Ciarelli will rotate two groups on the line because a couple of the players start on the offense line.
Hufford is a defensive tackle, along with Barry and junior Zach Cornwell, a 6-4, 260-pound transfer from JSerra.
Jensen (6-2, 216) is the other defensive end and senior Dylan Spengler is also a pass rusher.
Linebackers: Cochran leads the bunch after finishing with 73 tackles and receiving Dream Team laurels last year.
Someone with the first name "Stone" is in the middle.
"He's a tough dude," Brinkley said of Stone Manoa, a 6-foot, 208-pounder, who played defensive end last year. "He'll hit you. There's no doubt about it."
The other outside linebacker is Frazier. The backups are junior Marty Taylor and Aqueveque.
Secondary: Hasson, a Dream Team free safety last year, covers a lot of ground and he will have to with the team's inexperience.
The Sailors also lost their strong safety when Teaupa went down. In Teaupa's place is Wade.
Gyulay and Cablay are the cornerbacks. The best man cover guy is Hasson, but the Sailors need him patrolling the field.
"He could play corner in college," Brinkley said.
Special teams: This is an area Brinkley said his team has to play great in, and with kicker Christian Ochoa, punter Jake Ambrose and long snapper Kent Willett back for their senior years, this is promising.
Hasson and Cablay are the kickoff returners and Cablay the punt returner.