Newport Harbor High senior Dan Stevens said he treats every game like it's a CIF final.
With some kids, that might seem like just hyperbole. With Stevens, one really gets the sense that it's true.
"If the game's at 5 [p.m.], and we're there at 3:30 to warm up, I'm starting to stretch at home by 2," Stevens said. "I don't let myself relax or get myself into a lackadaisical mindset. I approach every game with the same intensity."
Watch the boys' water polo set guard in the water and it becomes clear: Stevens means business. The Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week is a huge component for the Sailors, both on defense and offense. He scored the game-winning goal on six-on-five, off a pass from his co-captain Preston Lee, in the Sailors' 9-8 victory over rival Los Alamitos in the S&R Sport Cup championship match last weekend at Woollett Aquatics Center.
But there are other interesting things about Stevens. He is a reporter for the Newport Harbor school newspaper, The Beacon, and he is intently following the race to the White House.
"I do enjoy following the political race, and just kind of keeping up with Romney and Obama and all that good stuff," Stevens said. "I'm kind of interested in politics. I'm in journalism this year, and I want to see where that takes me. I've decided that journalism will help me force myself to pay attention to government and political issues."
Stevens said he could possibly see himself as a businessman, or maybe even a politician. His agenda is clear for the Sailors — do not allow any goals at two meters.
"My job is to, under any circumstance, not let the center score," he said. "So far this season, except for [Mater Dei High senior] Jon Walters in the South Coast Tournament, no one has. I'm proud of that. But at the same time, Jon scoring, that just makes me want to work harder and not let him score on me in CIF, or that game we have against them Nov. 3."
Walters and the Monarchs won that tournament, scoring three late goals in a 7-4 victory. The USC-bound Walters, Stevens' old friend since they played together at Club Split OC, scored the last goals. The last goal came in transition and, after the game, Newport Harbor Coach Robert Lynn said Stevens should have taken the kickout in that situation.
Part of being a leader is admitting mistakes, and Stevens isn't afraid to do it.
"I should have taken the kickout on that one," he said. "I was hoping he'd hit a crossbar or something, and I could go on a counterattack. I over-thought it. I should have just taken the kickout and played defense."
Yet few players, if any, play defense better in CIF. Stevens has to go against a number of big names at his position, players like Walters, Los Alamitos senior Chandler Jarrels and Loyola of Los Angeles senior Chancellor Ramirez.
And, yes, part of the requirements of his position are that it's necessary to be excluded from time to time.
"My friends will be watching and they'll say, 'Oh, you got kicked out and you didn't score a whole lot,'" Stevens said. "But it's like, 'I did my job' ... Personally, if I can shut down a center, I'm perfectly happy. As [Newport Beach Water Polo Club 10-and-under coach] Ivan Vranjes says, 'If I do my job, any goal scored is just gravy.'"
Stevens, a three-year varsity starter, still is second on the Sailors in goals scored (27) and steals (22). He has come a long way since he was 3 or 4 years old and browsing through the Newport Navigator recreation guide with his mother, Shawna.
"We were trying to figure out what my mom was going to have me do over the summer," Dan Stevens said. "I was looking through it, and I pointed at a picture and I said, 'I want to do that.' The picture was of some people playing water polo. So my mom thought, 'OK, you should probably learn how to swim first.'"
Stevens swam for the Newport Beach Aquatic Club at CdM. When he was nine, he started playing polo for longtime coach Ted Bandaruk, and the rest was history.
Lynn, for one, is appreciative of the work put in by his set guard. He helped the Sailors (14-2), ranked No. 3 in CIF Southern Section Division 1, through a difficult stretch last week. They lost to No. 2 Loyola on the road, but came back for a huge 9-8 Sunset League victory over No. 4 Los Alamitos before winning the S&R Cup.
"He's a powerful kid," Lynn said. "He's our beast. We're going to miss him next year, for sure ... Dan's one of the harder workers, and he's one of the more serious guys on the team. He's always working hard. We're counting on him to progress a little more offensively as well, which he's doing."
Dan's dad, Doug, is always at the pool deck with a camera to capture the action. Doug and Shawna's other child, Dinny, is a seventh-grader at a private school in Tustin. She is a standout club swimmer for Novaquatics.