On Tuesday night, three days before Costa Mesa High tries to wrap up an outright Orange Coast League title, almost half the team spent it inside a computer classroom. The 18 players focused on schoolwork, not their next opponent.
Frank Albers, one of the team's assistant coaches, sat in the room. He volunteers his time to make sure the players are doing their homework or making up missed assignments.
He remembers a time five years ago, when the Mustangs finished perfect in league. Then the CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs came around the next week. Many of the players' grades at the end of the quarter were far from ideal.
"We lost 11 kids," Albers said of the number of players ruled academically ineligible to compete in the postseason. "We didn't have the same team. And even without them, we barely lost [17-14] to Santiago [in the first round].
"There was no tutoring [back then]. We talked [about providing tutoring] until we were blue in the face. We weren't proactive."
Now, Albers, with the help of volunteers like Katrina Foley and teachers like Cynthia Kaska, along with tutors and support from the Costa Mesa High School Foundation, there is place for the players to come on a Tuesday night for two hours to improve their academics.
Foley runs the event called "Tuesday Night Dinner Club and Tutoring." She and the rest of the adults in the room just don't want the players to have grade-point averages above 2.0. They want the players to succeed in the classroom just as they do on the field.
"We're trying to take this program beyond eligibility," said Foley, a board member of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District and whose son, Sam Swanson, plays football at Costa Mesa. "We're trying to take this program to the next level where the kids are scholar athletes and they're competitive for life."
Come playoff time next week, Foley said, each player on the team would be eligible.
Before the postseason, the Mustangs have one more game left in league. They can close out league undefeated with a victory at Laguna Beach on Friday at 7 p.m.
After that, the Mustangs will zero in on their first playoff win in 16 years.
•The three local football teams ranked in the latest CIF Southern Section polls are also in first place in their respective leagues.
Corona del Mar, the top-ranked team in the Southern Division, leads the Pacific Coast League. Costa Mesa, No. 8 in the Southern Division, is alone in first in the Orange Coast League, and Newport Harbor, No. 7 in the Southwest Division, shares the top spot with two other teams.
The Sea Kings are looking to go 5-0 for the second straight season in the Pacific Coast League. They close out league play against third-place Northwood (2-2) at Davidson Field on Friday at 7 p.m.
Costa Mesa can finish 5-0 in the Orange Coast League. The Mustangs travel to third-place Laguna Beach (2-2) for their league finale on Friday at 7 p.m. They last went undefeated in league five years ago.
Last week, both CdM and Costa Mesa clinched at least a share of their league titles and their leagues' No. 1 berth into the Southern Division playoffs. They can each claim their respective league crowns outright with wins, or with the second-place teams in their leagues losing on Friday. Irvine, which is 3-1 and in second place in the Pacific Coast League, plays host to sixth-place University (0-4), while Calvary Chapel, which is 3-1 and in second place in the Orange Coast League, plays at third-place Estancia (2-2).
Newport Harbor is tied for first place in the Sunset League at 3-1 with Edison and Los Alamitos. The Sailors finish league play at fifth-place Huntington Beach (1-3) on Friday at 7 p.m., while Edison plays sixth-place Marina (0-4) at Westminster High on Friday and Los Alamitos has fourth-place Fountain Valley (2-2) at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach on Thursday.
The Sailors previously won the Sunset League title five years ago, when they split it with four other teams. Four teams might share the No. 1 spot this year, if somehow, Newport Harbor and Edison lose, and Fountain Valley knocks off Los Alamitos.
The league is only guaranteed three berths into the Southwest Division playoffs, but the division does offer two at-large entries. One of those is expected to go to the Sunset League, which has three teams (No. 3 Los Alamitos, No. 4 Edison and No. 7 Newport Harbor) ranked in the top 10 in the Southwest Division. Three other leagues, the Freeway (No. 1 La Habra and No. 9 Buena Park), Empire (No. 2 Yorba Linda and No. 6 Placentia Valencia) and Century (No. 5 Foothill and No. 8 Villa Park) each have two teams ranked.
•A perfect 10. CdM's football team can cap the regular season that way for the first time in the program's history.
The only other time the Sea Kings have gone unbeaten during the regular season was in 1988, when they went 8-0-2. That same season, CdM added four wins in the CIF Southern Section Division VI playoffs en route to winning its first section title.