Tars face new playoff road

A heat wave hit during the start of training camp at Newport Harbor High. It isn't often that it feels like it's in the high-90s in Newport Beach.

Players brought up the heat and humidity. Coach Jeff Brinkley shook his head, knowing players not by the beach have it a lot worse than the Sailors do.

The temperature will cool down by the time the season starts on Aug. 30. While the heat will go away, the Sailors aren't going anywhere.

Their first four games of the season are at home. Brinkley said he couldn't remember the last time his Sailors opened the season with four straight games at Davidson Field.

He's entering his 27th year in charge of the Sailors. Kicking off the season at home is what most coaches prefer, but not having to travel to your first road game for almost a month is ideal to Brinkley.

"There's nothing like staying here and walking out of the locker room; no bus ride," said Brinkley, adding that those four home dates are still going to present a challenge.

Three of the four games are against teams that made the CIF Southern Section playoffs last year, two reached their respective division finals, Corona del Mar (Southern) and San Clemente (Pac-5).

The first four opponents are the same as last year, when Newport Harbor faced one of the most daunting schedules in the state. The Sailors finished 5-6, their first season below .500 in 16 years. It marked only the second time they posted a losing record under Brinkley.

Newport Harbor still made the playoffs, its 20th appearance in 26 years. Getting back might be easier, thanks to the Sailors' Sunset League moving out of the Pac-5 Division playoffs and into the Southwest Division this year.

"There could be [four teams from the Sunset League making the postseason] because there are two at-large berths [in the Southwest Division]," said Brinkley when comparing the Southwest Division to the much tougher Pac-5 Division, which had zero at at-large entries last year. "I know one thing that I like … that CIF is now considering strength of schedule. They did it in the past, but it was more based off the record. Now, they're looking at the record still, but they're really looking at strength of schedule.

"Last year, we had the ninth-toughest schedule in the state [and seven of our opponents made the playoffs]. In terms of that criteria, we're going to be in good shape. We've just got to find a way to win some games."

While the playoff division changed, the league is the same for Newport Harbor. It won't be easy going 3-2 for the seventh straight year in league.

The number of players out this year is 46, below the usual at Newport Harbor. The lone first-team All-Sunset League performer back is Landon Gyulay. The senior starts at wide receiver and cornerback and he'll return kickoffs.

Depth is an issue for the Sailors, who return one offensive starter and five on defense. Having two of their best players, junior Ramsey Hufford and senior Zach Cornwell, start on offense and defense might be an issue.

In league play, the Sailors face some of the top teams in Orange County: No. 6 Edison, No. 10 Los Alamitos, No. 13 Huntington Beach and No. 14 Fountain Valley are ahead of No. 15 Newport Harbor on the county's top-25 preseason poll.

The goal for Newport Harbor is to secure one of the league's three automatic postseason berths. Brinkley believes Edison is favored to claim the No. 1 spot again.

The first team in league to get a crack at stopping Edison is Newport Harbor on Oct. 4 at Huntington Beach High. The Sailors' last win against the Chargers was in 1979.

david.carrillo@latimes.com

Twitter: @DCPenaloza

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