Anthony Zavala, a big-time Newport Harbor High football supporter, passed away Wednesday.

Anthony Zavala, a big-time Newport Harbor High football supporter, passed away Wednesday. (Courtes of Newport Harbor Football / June 15, 2014)

During Jeff Brinkley's 28 years as coach of the Newport Harbor High School football team, thousands of fans have cheered on the Sailors during games.

Not many stood out as visibly as Anthony Zavala on those Friday nights. He made his presence felt well before the 7 p.m. kickoff.

At home or on the road, Zavala found a way to be the first person to greet the Sailors before they made it onto the field. He high-fived and encouraged them outside the locker room. The same process repeated itself at halftime.

Zavala died Wednesday after suffering severe head trauma in a skateboarding accident in San Clemente, said his wife, Peggy. He was 50.

"My dad was really important to me growing up because of my autism and developmental disorder," said his son, Joseph Zavala, who plays for the Sailors. "He was always there for me. I'm going to miss him."

While seeing the familiar face meant a lot to the players, football served to unite father and son ever since Joseph, at age 8, decided he wanted to play like his dad.

Joseph, who played in the Costa Mesa Pop Warner football program, went from rarely making eye contact with members of his team to putting fear into the eyes of whoever lined up across from him. Joseph, in his senior season, turned into one of the top linemen in the area, earning Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Dream Team and first-team All-Sunset League honors.

Joseph's mother, Peggy, says football has been a miracle in Joseph's life. Anthony was Joseph's No. 1 fan, his best friend. Everyone in the stadium could hear Anthony on his plastic megaphone yell, "Bust the line, Joe!"

Anthony's death has devastated the entire Zavala family. Peggy said the family was in the process of moving from Costa Mesa, and Joseph's graduation at Newport Harbor is set for Thursday.

Those who knew Anthony remember how he would end every conversation with, "If you get in trouble, give me a call." Now his family needs support.

The Newport Harbor football program is helping the Zavala family. The booster club is providing meals and raising money for funeral expenses.

Supporters can donate at http://www.GiveForward.com by typing "Anthony Zavala" in the search box.

Peggy said the family is planning a paddle-out at 6 a.m. Saturday at 20th Street, the south side of Newport Pier, to honor her husband, who enjoyed surfing. A burial at sea should take place in the next couple of weeks with a more formal memorial service following within a couple of months, she said.

"The beauty of our program is that we're a family, and we're willing to help," Brinkley said.

He added: "Anthony was the biggest cheerleader we had. He loved the program, and I know all the kids appreciated him and his encouraging words.We're all thinking of Joe and his family right now."

Anthony not only influenced the football program but also the band. He sat next to the band members, cheering them on when they performed during games. They haven't forgotten.

"The whole band is trying to get something together for the family," said Linda Duffy, who used to be on the board of directors of the Newport Harbor Music and Education Foundation and whose son, Colin Duffy, played with Joseph this past football season.

"Anthony was louder than any fan," she added. "He didn't only cheer for the team when it was winning. He was a big supporter of the boys on the team that didn't get on the field or didn't play as much.

"He would tell them, 'You're really a big part of the team. If it weren't for you guys, the good players wouldn't have players to practice against and get ready for games. You made them and the team better.'"

You can say the same about Anthony's contributions as a fan, and as a dad. Joseph wore No. 65 in honor of his dad's number at La Quinta High. Both played right guard.

The latest Zavala to line up at the position played a vital role in the Sailors reaching the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division final in December. Dad never made it onto the field that day at Angel Stadium to greet the Sailors before the game, and they wound up losing to Huntington Beach High, 42-28.

That wasn't Joseph's last football game. He plans to play at Orange Coast College next season. He believes his father will be making noise from high above, where he will be high-fiving angels during his son's games.

In addition to his wife of 22 years and son Joseph, Anthony is survived by children Alvin, Angel and Jalil; parents Joe and Sue Holguin; and eight siblings, Virginia, Joanna, Lily, Gerard, Alex, Scott, Tom and Mike.