Without a doubt, Coach Wally Grant said the Costa Mesa High football team surprised many last season by winning eight games in his first year.
The last time the program won that many times, the year was 2002. Grant now wants eight wins to be the standard each year at his alma mater.
If the Mustangs' win total shocked a lot of teams last season, they're in for another this season.
"Our expectation is to always get to that final game and just win," said Oronde Crenshaw, a junior middle linebacker.
That final game Crenshaw referred to is for the CIF Southern Section Southern Division title.
In the Mustangs' history, which dates back to 1960, only once has the football team played for a section crown. That year was in 1993, when Crenshaw's father, DeWayne, paved the way to the final as a fullback.
Grant was an assistant back then at Costa Mesa. He knows he has another bruising fullback in Oronde, who is 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds. Just like his father, an All-CIF defensive end, Oronde is a standout on defense and offense.
The Mustangs are going to need Oronde to perform again if they expect to collect eight wins and compete for Orange Coast League and section titles. They lost Mario Smith, the kind of tailback who turned a three-yard run into an 80-yard touchdown last year.
"I'll probably never get to coach a kid that was that fast again," Grant said of Smith, who in his only season with the Mustangs amassed 2,155 yards and 28 touchdowns on the ground and set two Costa Mesa records, most touchdowns (30) in a season and most touchdowns (seven) in a game. "You can't replace that."
Grant has to find a player to not only take over for Smith, but also for quarterback Nathan Alvis and wide receivers Jordan Walden and Trace Curet. Each of those players earned first-team all-league accolades last season as seniors.
From an offense that posted 49 or more points six times last year, only three starters return. Crenshaw is the lone first-team all-league pick from the trio.
On the defensive side, five starters are back. Crenshaw, who had five sacks and two interceptions in 2011, and senior Noah JeyaRajah, a hybrid safety-linebacker, highlight the unit.
"The emphasis this year is on defense," said Grant, whose team boasts team speed. "This year we're going to win games because of our defense."
Grant is hoping a tougher nonleague schedule bodes well for Costa Mesa come league and postseason play.
The first game against Western at Jim Scott Stadium on Aug. 24 is winnable. That hasn't been the case in the last 10 season openers, all of which Costa Mesa has lost.
The Mustangs' first two tests before the league opener against rival Estancia on Oct. 5 come in consecutive weeks: Katella on Sept. 7 and Los Amigos on Sept. 13. Los Amigos ended Costa Mesa's season by beating the Mustangs, 38-7, in the first round of the playoffs last year.
The fashion in which the Mustangs ended their season wasn't ideal. They dropped the final two games. The first setback was for the outright league title against Estancia and the second loss added to the Mustangs' opening-round postseason woes.
While Costa Mesa stunned many with its eight victories during the regular season, how it did in the playoffs wasn't surprising. Going one-and-out has been the norm for the Mustangs in their past eight postseason appearances.