Steve Sarkisian, the keynote speaker at Monday's CIF Southern Section football luncheon, delivered a short, but effective message to players and coaches.
The University of Washington coach told them to enjoy the week, enjoy the experience. The players and coaches who were at The Grand in Long Beach are finalists for CIF championship games.
Corona del Mar High's Brent Lawson, Erik Fisher and Aaron White, along with Coach Scott Meyer did their best to live in the moment. Frankly, it was probably the last time they could truly enjoy it. Later in the afternoon began the work week toward the big game: No. 2-seeded CdM (11-2) vs. top-seeded Beckman (11-2) for the Southern Division championship Friday at Orange Coast College. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.
You can expect a great game, said Meyer, the CdM first-year coach. You can expect a hard-hitting game, said Beckman's Ken Mushinskie, also a first-year coach for the Patriots.
The Pacific Coast League foes have developed quite the rivalry. Fittingly perhaps, they sat at tables on opposite sides of the room.
Last year, CdM beat Beckman on its way to winning the PCL title. But the Patriots eliminated the Sea Kings in the CIF semifinals. This season, Beckman took down CdM to win its first PCL championship. And now they are meeting for the CIF crown.
CdM last won a CIF title in 1989, which was the last time the Sea Kings reached the final. A section championship for CdM would be its third.
The Patriots are seeking their first CIF title. They came this close to winning it last year, as they lost to Garden Grove, 31-30.
"Our goal last year was to win the championship and we came one point short and that's been on our minds the entire year," Beckman senior Bryan Dewey said. "We are definitely going in thinking we want this."
The Sea Kings know of Dewey; painfully, so does Lawson. Dewey intercepted two of Lawson's passes and took one back for a 35-yard touchdown in Beckman's wild 42-37 win on Nov. 11.
Lawson doesn't think fondly of that game. But the senior quarterback is excited about the opportunity for redemption Friday night.
"It wasn't the best game for me," Lawson said of the loss to Beckman. "But it makes this game that much better. I'm going to work that much harder. I have a chance for redemption. I'm totally excited. I'm excited for this opportunity."
Lawson said the team is anxious for the opportunity.
As one of the three players representing CdM, Lawson fills the role as a natural leader. The three have different personalities for sure. They each wore a white dress shirt with a tie. Lawson had sneakers on. He plans to study economics and play baseball at Yale next year and might play football too.
Fisher, the Sea Kings' lead running back, appears to be the calm, quiet, lead-by-example type.
"It's a great honor [to be at the luncheon]," Fisher said. "It's really cool to see all the top players in the county."
What about White? He's a reason Mushinskie said Friday's game will be hard-hitting.
You know that guy who's in those Allstate insurance commercials? That's sort of White. Maybe people should call him, "Mayhem." He is everywhere. The linebacker always seems to be looking to hit someone.
"Ruthless," White said, describing his playing style. "Defensively as a whole we are just ruthless. We don't like to give up big plays. We want to go out there and hit people hard. Just hit them hard."
Meyer will do his best to channel that aggressiveness toward execution. In his first year with the Sea Kings he has been able to connect with his players.
"It was a real smooth transition," Meyer said of his first season as the Sea Kings' coach and his ability to connect. "I think the credit goes to our seniors."
Tim Bryan, CdM's principal, and Don Grable, the school's athletic director, sensed something special in Meyer when the coach was hired.
Grable called Meyer a team player and a people person. Bryan has been impressed with Meyer because he says Meyer is not only a great coach, but a great teacher for his school.
Meyer's been able to help add to a huge fall season for CdM athletics. The football squad is one of five CdM teams that have reached the CIF section finals. Boys' water polo, girls' volleyball and boys' and girls' cross country finished as runners-up.
The football team wants to be the one to bring the school a championship.