It seems silly, in a way, to discuss the Newport Harbor High football team's new CIF Southern Section playoff division before the season even begins.
The Sailors spent two seasons in the Southwest Division, advancing to the quarterfinals in 2012 and the championship game last year. In May, the Sailors and the Sunset League were moved up to the West Valley Division, which features traditional powerhouses like Hart, Vista Murrieta and Mission Viejo.
The reason why the CIF division might be premature to talk about is that the Sailors will have to navigate through the always-tough Sunset League to advance to the postseason. Yet, that usually hasn't been a problem under Coach Jeff Brinkley, who is entering his 29th year.
In 22 of Brinkley's first 28 years, the Sailors have made the postseason. That includes each of the last five seasons. Last year, Newport Harbor finished tied for second in league before making its big playoff run, which included a 49-48 quarterfinal upset win over top-seeded La Habra at Davidson Field.
The league seems to get tougher and more balanced each year, with 2013 champion Edison setting the pace.
"When you go through our league and play the guys that we have to play in league, it will definitely help get us ready if we happen to make the playoffs," Brinkley said. "[League is] tough again. It's typical Sunset League. It's one of those leagues where everybody can beat everybody. Edison, until they get knocked off, you've got to pick them being up at the top."
There also are other scores to settle. Everyone will be looking forward to the Battle of the Bay game. Last year, Corona del Mar pulled away in the second half for a 34-14 win at Orange Coast College, its first Battle of the Bay win in seven years. This year, the game is back at Davidson, on Sept. 19.
One player who certainly has that date circled on the proverbial calendar is Newport Harbor senior receiver/linebacker Keaton Cablay.
"I think last year we went in way too cocky, but this year I'm trying to keep this team composed," Cablay said. "I really want to win this year, senior year, and it's at our home field too. We're definitely fired up. It hurts to see that bell over [at CdM]."
Here is a position-by-position look at the Sailors, who have a home scrimmage against Bell Gardens on Friday and open the regular season at home against Los Angeles Hamilton on Sept. 5.
Quarterback: Senior Cole Norris, who recently committed to Northern Arizona, returns for his third year starting under center.
Norris, 6-foot, 193 pounds, had a big year last year. He passed for 2,959 yards and a school-record 27 touchdowns, narrowly missing the Sailors' single-season passing yardage mark held by Shane Foley. Norris, though, is just 943 yards away from breaking Foley's career passing mark of 5,364 yards.
Brinkley said Norris, the Sunset League Co-Offensive Back of the Year and Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Dream Team Offensive Player of the Year in 2013, is probably the best in terms of throwing the football that he's had in his tenure at Newport Harbor.
"He's understanding the system and what we're trying to get accomplished," Brinkley said. "We know he can physically make plays, and the mental end is where he's starting to really make some real progress. If he was 6-4 or 6-5, he'd be recruited by everybody. Every Pac-12 school would be after him."
Newport junior Dalton Rosene and sophomore Michael Bonds are in a battle for the backup spot.
Running backs: Senior tailback Chance Siemonsma (6-0, 173) returns after producing 1,073 yards rushing and eight touchdowns last year. Brinkley said the first-team All-Sunset League selection has gotten bigger and a little bit more physical.
Backing up Siemonsma are junior Max Durante (6-0, 203) and senior Riley Gaddis (6-1, 204).
Trevor Shaw, a senior, is a returning starter at fullback. Shaw (5-10, 206) was a second-team all-league choice last year.
Receivers: Cablay, who is the top returning receiver, and will have to step up after Brinkley said he was a third or fourth option last year. But he still caught 16 passes, and Brinkley said he had an excellent summer.
The Sailors lost their top two starters at the position, each of whom topped 1,000 yards. Graduate Quest Truxton was the Sunset League Offensive Player of the Year and set program records in receptions (83), receiving yards (1,325) and receiving touchdowns (17). Another graduate, Cory Stowell, shared the catches record with 83 of his own, adding 1,074 yards and nine touchdowns.