By David Carrillo Peñaloza
8:43 PM PDT, August 21, 2012
Jeff Brinkley said he never does much during his birthday. He has a good excuse to treat it like any other day.
His birthday falls during the Newport Harbor High football season, when he's busy coaching. It has been that way ever since he arrived at the school in 1986 and began leading the Sailors.
Brinkley's next birthday is a big one. He turns 60 on Sept. 21, the same day his Sailors play a home game.
The only thing he's looking to celebrate is a win on the field. It will be difficult to pull off because the Sailors play San Clemente, last year's CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division runner-up.
But Brinkley knows how to win as he has won a lot with the Sailors, 213 times. He is one victory shy of moving past another coaching legend, Dick Hill, in the Orange County record book when it comes to career wins.
Brinkley doesn't want to move into the No. 5 spot by himself on his birthday because it will be the Sailors' fourth game of the season. He'd prefer to get it over with in the team's season opener on Aug. 30 against Trabuco Hills.
Last year's matchup with Trabuco Hills marked only the fifth time the Sailors failed to win their first game of the season under Brinkley. The rare start led to a first under Brinkley's watch — an 0-2 record.
The Sailors turned things around in time, rallying late to beat Corona del Mar, 29-26, in the Battle of the Bay. They avoided beginning the season with three straight losses for the first time in 30 years.
Newport Harbor won five of the next eight games to make the Pac-5 Division playoffs for the third year in a row.
"We want to be in the playoffs," Brinkley said. "It's like the pros. If you can make the playoffs … you've got a chance. You get there, anything can happen. We showed that in 2005. I don't think anybody expected us to win CIF, but we got there and then we started playing really well. We played our best football at the end of the year."
The successful section title run seven years ago was Brinkley's third with the Sailors. He is back in familiar territory.
Newport Harbor is now in the Southwest Division, formerly known as Division VI. The Sailors became perennial contenders in this division, making four trips to the final between 1999 and 2005, winning it in 1999 and 2005.
"You've got a fighting chance," Brinkley said of the Southwest Division playoffs. "In the Pac-5, we won one playoff game [in four postseason appearances in six years].
"I think we can be competitive [in the Southwest Division], but I know there are good teams in this division. We've played in this division. I've played against Tustin and some of these other guys."
Tustin, the defending Southwest Division champion, is one of the contenders Brinkley named. The Tillers have appeared in the section final in three of the past four years, breaking through last season.
Other teams Brinkley mentioned in the hunt included Dana Hills, which moved to the Sea View League from the South Coast League, the Freeway League's top team, La Habra, which won the Southwest Division from 2008-10, and newcomer Edison of the Sunset League.
Newport Harbor, Los Alamitos, Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley figure to be in the playoff mix from the Sunset League, the Southwest Division's latest member.
"Any time you have tougher teams coming into [a] division … it makes it more challenging," Brinkley said.
"We've still got to play the same league and we play the same schedule. Our schedule didn't change."
Not much has changed to Brinkley. When his birthday comes during the season, he'll focus on his opponent, rather than turning 60.
Below are the players who will try to give Brinkley a birthday gift in the form of a winning season:
Quarterback: Zach Wade is the starting quarterback and the senior gives the Sailors' West Coast offense a dimension it has not seen in the past.
"He can run and make plays," Brinkley said of Wade, an athletic 5-foot-11, 201-pounder. "He'll make something happen."
Wade steps in for Cole Blower, who earned Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Dream Team and first-team All-Sunset League honors after throwing for 1,212 yards and 14 touchdowns, with five interceptions as a senior last year.
Wade's backup will be sophomore Cole Norris.
Running backs: Brinkley said the team's biggest offensive loss was Titus Hasson, a Dream Team tailback, who rushed for 1,023 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior last season.
The Sailors will have a healthy Talalelei Teaupa. He missed most of last year when he broke his collarbone during a practice before the season.
Teaupa, a 5-11, 187-pound senior, is the lead running back, while junior Garrett Hall and senior Alex Flores expect to spell Teaupa.
Chance Siemonsma is a sophomore back Brinkley said he likes.
Marty Taylor, a 6-1, 203-pound senior, is the fullback. Junior Jack Storch is Taylor's backup.
Receivers: The top wideout in the area is Landon Gyulay, a Dream Team and first-team all-league performer last year.
The 5-11, 182-pound senior is a playmaker. He led Newport Harbor with 40 catches for 574 yards and five touchdowns last year.
Brinkley said Ivy League schools and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo are interested in Gyulay.
Junior Quest Truxton and sophomore Keaton Cablay, whose older brothers played receiver for Newport Harbor, are targets this year on varsity.
Truxton earned the junior varsity MVP award and he'll line up on the opposite side of Gyulay.
Riley Gaddis, a sophomore, has impressed Brinkley. He filled in for Gyulay when the returning starter dealt with hamstring issues.
Tight end: Senior Alex De Soto, a 6-foot, 246-pounder up from JV, gets the starting nod.
Senior Brian Team (6-2, 196) will lineup whenever the offense goes into a double-tight-end formation.
Offensive line: The Sailors lost a talented left tackle in 6-5, 290-pound Sam Bush, who transferred to Mater Dei after he made the Cal-Hi Sports All-State Underclassmen first team for sophomores last season.
The top two guys left for Newport Harbor are junior left tackle Ramsey Hufford (6-3, 296) and right tackle Zach Cornwell (6-3, 264).
"Hufford is going to be a Division I football player someday," said Brinkley, adding that the tackle protecting the quarterback's blindside is receiving many letters from colleges, including Nebraska and Colorado.
Cornwell looks to stay healthy after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the Sailors' season opener last year.
The rest of the line includes junior T.J. Tarazevits, a 6-7, 313-pound left guard, and three players — senior Andrew Williams (6-0, 226), junior Joseph Zavala (5-7, 261) and senior Emmanuel Jogwe (6-2, 206) — are competing at center and right guard.
Defensive line: Inside is the Sailors' strength with Hufford and Cornwell returning as starters.
The 4-3 defense lost a standout in Steve Michaelsen to graduation. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound defensive end earned All-CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division and Dream Team honors, and a share of the Sunset League Defensive Lineman of the Year award.
Donovan Acadine, a 6-foot, 217-pound senior, will be an end, and seniors Armani Johnson (5-11, 200) and Christian Gutierrez (5-11, 180) are competing for the other end spot.
Linebackers: Taylor is back at middle linebacker. He received second-team all-league accolades last season.
The other linebackers are Team and Teaupa.
Secondary: Gone is Hasson, the Sunset League Defensive Back of the Year. He covered a lot of ground as a safety.
Gyulay returns at one of the cornerback spots and Wade as the strong safety.
Truxton is the other corner and Derek Kula, a senior, is the free safety.
"We obviously would like to keep [Wade] on one side of the ball, if possible," Brinkley said "In a perfect world, you get Kula [at strong safety] and Hall [at free safety] and don't have to play Zach [on defense]."
Special teams: The Sailors will miss Hasson on kickoffs as he averaged 32.3 yards per return.
Gyulay and Gaddis are the kickoff returners and Truxton the punt returner.
Sophomore Michael Schultz will kick and punt.