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His Career Just Keeps Spiraling Upward

Manderino's passes might not always be pretty, but Newport Harbor's gritty quarterback/linebacker almost always wins.


He grew up the only boy among four sisters, determined to win at Monopoly or hearts or whatever the kids were playing. It became a passion for Chris Manderino, and success became his trademark.

Playing the rare two-way combination of quarterback and linebacker for Newport Harbor, Manderino has established himself as the one guy in the Sea View League everyone would love to have.

OK, so his passes wobble a little bit. . . .

"Some people would say he's not that good of a quarterback," said Irvine Coach Terry Henigan. "I say, 'Hogwash!' It's high school football. You don't have to be pretty. He's a winner. We hit him, and he came back for more.

"Football is a funny game. You can go to all those camps and throw pretty spirals, but when it gets down to games, the best competitor is going to win. Not the guy who throws the prettiest spiral. And that's Manderino."

That's high praise from the coach who lost to Manderino's Sailors in last season's Southern Section Division VI championship game, 19-18.

Manderino's knack for finishing on top is evidenced by his record as a starting quarterback, 22-0-2, in the Sailor program, including 13-0-1 last season on the varsity. He played tailback as a freshman, and was on the junior varsity as a sophomore.

"He's not pretty, he just wins," said Manderino's coach, Jeff Brinkley. "You take the eyeball test with these guys who make preseason commitments, they probably have the height and they can throw the ball through a wall, but I gauge quarterbacks on how many games they win. You can do all those other things great, you can go to a combine and can look the part, but can you get it done on Friday night?

"Chris has proven he can get it done on Friday night--not just playing quarterback, but having to turn around and light somebody up as an outside linebacker."

So is Chris Manderino a quarterback who plays linebacker, or a linebacker who plays quarterback?

"I've always liked to hit people," said Manderino, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder. "It's a thrill, an adrenaline rush. There are a lot of guys who don't like getting hit or like to hit. Football's a contact sport. You have to like to hit if you're gonna play the game."

Manderino can definitely play the game.

"You just don't see that, the kid who plays quarterback and linebacker," said Woodbridge Coach Rick Gibson. "Maybe in the 1950s or '60s it happened, and I'm sure that in my 15 years of coaching it has happened, but to be as successful as that young man is on both sides of the ball, that's a feather in his cap."

With Manderino's on-field leadership, and a defense that allowed only 117 points in 14 games, Newport Harbor was Orange County's only undefeated team. Despite having only two starters back on offense and four on defense--Manderino counting as one on each side of the ball--most Sea View coaches have established the Sailors as the league favorite.

This season, though, Manderino goes from bit player behind the late Andre Stewart to starring role. Stewart, who died May 14 in a car crash, rushed 342 times for 2,380 yards and scored 26 touchdowns as a senior last season. Manderino attempted a modest 119 passes, completing 53 (44.5%) and averaging 16.9 yards per completion. He threw for 12 touchdowns and had seven passes intercepted.

However, in a worst-case scenario, he might not play quarterback if the Sailors can't find a suitable tailback.

"I played tailback my freshman year," Manderino said. "I think it's a fun position, and I wouldn't mind playing it. At quarterback, I can run the ball, but I also get to throw the ball. I like playing quarterback because there's more ways I can produce and help."

Brinkley said he is encouraged by what he saw from Manderino over the summer.

Manderino is encouraged too.

"I expect to have a real successful year," he said. "I expect to make the playoffs and hopefully make it back to the CIF championship game. For me, I don't expect anything less than making it back to the finals."

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