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Newport Harbor's Wave Is Finally Peaking


NEWPORT BEACH — While most of Orange County clamored over who's No. 1--Los Alamitos or Mater Dei--Newport Harbor quietly made history.

After piling up victories, one by one, Newport Harbor finished with a 35-14 triumph over El Toro Thursday to cap a 10-0 season, the best regular-season record in the school's 64 years of playing varsity football.

The Sailors finished ranked No. 1 in Southern Section Division V and fourth in Orange County.

Coach Jeff Brinkley couldn't pinpoint one reason for the team's record-breaking success, but he had a fistful of potential causes.

"When I took over eight years ago, there was definitely a game plan," Brinkley said.

He began implementing his plan, piece by piece. And in his ninth season, everything fell into place.

Among the biggest pieces:

* A hard-working, talented coaching staff.

* One of the best weight-training facilities in the county.

* Top-notch technology for the film and stat crews.

* And most importantly, 38 varsity players who believe in the system.

"Athletic-wise, a lot of teams are superior to us," said John Giordani, Newport Harbor's starting quarterback. "But we have the team camaraderie that sets us apart from the other teams that, talent-wise, we might not match up with.

"There's no star player here."

The Sailor running game is led by a tailback committee of Brian Johnson, Edon Kagasoff and Jeremy Mason, who have combined to rush for more than 1,400 yards. Giordani is a solid quarterback who has completed 55% of his passes for nearly 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns.

The defense is not flashy, but has posted two shutouts. Linebacker Dan McDonough and defensive lineman Bill Johns anchor a low-profile unit that has held opponents to a touchdown or less in five games. Everyone contributes.

"In fact, I think the scout-team players win the games for us when we face them during the week in practice," Giordani said. "Friday, we just find out what the score is."

The scores have been favorable for Newport Harbor. The Sailors are averaging 23 points per game while giving up only 10.

Some other numbers help show how Newport Harbor has grown into one of the more successful programs in the county.

The Sailors have now qualified for six consecutive playoffs. During that time, the team's record is 52-19 for a .732 winning percentage. This season, the Sailors won their first league championship in Brinkley's tenure.

The only thing missing from the Newport Harbor trophy case is a Southern Section championship football plaque.

"We haven't done that," Brinkley said. "So if that's what it takes for us to be considered among the best, then yeah, we're not there yet."

This season, the Sailors are favored to win a section championship. They will begin the Division V playoffs top-seeded, playing host to Saddleback in a first-round game Friday.

"Our goal from the beginning has been to go 14 weeks," McDonough said. "We always played it one week at a time, but the ultimate goal was to get to the championship game."

The Sailors reached the championship game in 1992, but lost the Division IV title to Irvine, 30-8.

"That year was good," Giordani said. "The last two to three years, it has really come together. We have the complete package now."

It is a package that took nine years to refine, and the backbone is the coaching staff.

Three of Brinkley's assistants--offensive line coach Bill Vetica, defensive backs coach Rick Ramirez and running backs coach Bill Brown--have worked with him from the beginning at Newport Harbor. Vetica and Ramirez also worked with Brinkley when he coached at Norwalk High.

Assistants Mike Bargas, Bill Calloway and Mike Downs have been at Newport Harbor for three years.

"Everyone knows their roles," Brinkley said.

Tony Ciarelli, defensive coordinator and strength coach, has been at Newport Harbor for six years and his biggest impact, perhaps, is felt in the weight room.

Brinkley and Ciarelli revamped the weight training facilities and strength and conditioning programs, leaving college coaches in amazement.

"Recruiters' jaws drop because they can't believe the type of facilities we have," Brinkley said. "One of our track athletes took a recruiting trip to Stanford and came back saying that we had a better weight room here."

That excellence is also apparent in the film room, where the Sailors have numerous VCRs and televisions. There is also a computer at their disposal for various statistical and record-keeping tasks.

"College coaches have visited and told me they were impressed with our equipment," Brinkley said. "These things we felt were necessary to give our kids the best chance to compete with anyone."

That has never been more apparent.

On the surface, the Sailors appeared to be destined to finish in the middle of the Sea View League.

But a tremendous work ethic and competitive fire has helped them overcome individual shortcomings to become a league championship team .

"Somehow this group has gotten together, across the board, and everyone has done what needs to be done," Giordani said. "Every week we look around at each other and say that we are so lucky to be in this situation."

McDonough appreciates the success a little differently because his older brothers, Chris, 24, and Brian, 22, both played for Brinkley.

"I've always dreamed of playing here," McDonough said. "It's like a family, not just a football team."

And this team is ready to join the elite.

"We've consistently been to the playoffs, and we finally won that league title," Brinkley said. "I think we're ready to take that last step, but we won't get ahead of ourselves. This team will take it one at a time."

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