Newport Harbor High senior Zach Wade will trigger the Sailors' offense at quarterback in 2012. (SCOTT SMELTZER, Daily Pilot / September 16, 2011)

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.