Joe Ahearn squats 475 pounds during Newport Harbor High School's annual weightlifting competition for its football team on Thursday.

Joe Ahearn squats 475 pounds during Newport Harbor High School's annual weightlifting competition for its football team on Thursday. (SCOTT SMELTZER, Daily Pilot / June 13, 2014)

Strength has always been one of the keys to Newport Harbor High's success on the football field for the last 28 years under Coach Jeff Brinkley.

Two people who have helped the Sailors become one of the strongest programs in Southern California are Tony Ciarelli and his wife, Stephanie.

Brinkley and the Ciarellis were on hand Thursday, when the Sailors displayed some power during their annual lift-a-thon on campus. Outside of the weight room, fans and family members sat on bleachers and watched the Sailors compete in squats.

Joey Stukonis stood out. The sophomore squatted 528 pounds, tying the Newport Harbor school record set by Ramsey Hufford at last year's lift-a-thon. This past fall, Hufford, a senior left tackle, anchored Newport Harbor's run to the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division final.

"I am aiming for that for sure," Stukonis said of surpassing Hufford, who's heading to UC Davis to play football. "I tried to hit [533 pounds] and I barely missed it. I was a little too confident. Halfway up, I thought I had it and I stopped. I gave up because I thought I had it up, but I didn't have it up. That's pride getting in the way."

Stukonis' effort topped the rest of the field, which included Joe Ahearn (473 pounds), Trevor Shaw (451), Taylor Guerrero (451), Booker Hoey (418) and John Perez (418).

The lift-a-thon is part of Newport Harbor's fundraising efforts. Tony Ciarelli said the event would feature the clean and bench on Monday, and the snatch on Tuesday.

Stukonis said he will not try to max out in those three last lifts because he underwent right elbow surgery in March. Ciarelli expects Stukonis, the strongest sophomore at Newport Harbor, to be at full speed at the end of summer.

Stukonis, a right tackle last season, is moving to left tackle as a junior. The 6-foot-2, 280-pounder is ready to protect quarterback Cole Norris' blindside and pave the way to another successful Newport Harbor season. The Sailors shared second place in the Sunset League last season.

"We have very high expectations," said Stukonis, referring to the Sunset League moving into the newly created West Valley Division playoffs with the Southwestern, South Coast, Baseline and Foothill leagues. "The new division makes us more hungry. When we found out [we were leaving the Southwest Division], we knew we had to work harder."

The weight room is where it all begins for the Sailors. Stephanie Ciarelli is the one who's in charge. Since she came to Newport Harbor in 2005, the Sailors have appeared in the section finals twice, winning in '05 and losing in '13.

"The three CIF championship winning teams [in 1994, '99 and '05] and the [five] teams that made it to the CIF finals [in '92, '96, '00, '04 and '13] have been the strongest teams we've had," said Tony Ciarelli, a defensive coordinator who wrapped up his 21st season with the Sailors. "Our strength has been a pretty good indicator. The stronger we are, the better chances we have."