At the start of training camp, one Saturday football practice at Estancia High began at 5 a.m. Two players showed up a couple of minutes late. Coach Mike Bargas viewed it as a sign of progress.
There used to be a time whenever the Eagles held a practice that early, players asked to stay on campus the night before. Bargas' office turned into a dorm.
"They were afraid," Bargas said, referring to his players not getting up in time for the practice. "They slept here [in sleeping bags]."
No longer does Bargas have to host sleepovers in his office. Players have bought into his demands during his seven years in charge of the Eagles and they have prospered for it.
One reporter wanted to experience an Estancia practice during camp and Bargas let him suit up. The 25-year-old barely kept up with the teenagers.
A few days later, his paper published a coaches' poll online that showed Bargas' Eagles wouldn't hang in the Orange Coast League this season. Bargas, one of the more honest coaches in Orange County, saw the fourth-place prediction in the six-team league as a sign of disrespect.
"We've had some success since I've been here," said Bargas, who led Estancia to undefeated league titles in 2010 and '11 and the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs two years ago, the program's best postseason run.
"I haven't been reading a lot of the paper, but I know that we're not ranked to do that well this year."
The prediction in league is the worst during Bargas' time with the Eagles.
In the previous six years, coaches picked the Eagles to place first twice, second three times and third once. They have gone on to win the league crown three times.
Bargas isn't buying this year's fourth-place finish. He believes his team can compete with the teams, Costa Mesa, Laguna Beach and Godinez, listed ahead of the Eagles in the poll. In the past three years, Estancia is a combined 8-1 against those three programs.
"If I thought if we were going to be terrible," Bargas said you would hear it directly from him.
The team lost a lot of talent and experience from last year, when Estancia placed second in league. Gone is tailback Robert Murtha, a three-time All-CIF Southern Section Southern Division performer. He ended his career with Newport-Mesa bests in rushing yards (5,489) and total touchdowns (58).
Only one starter, right tackle Osvaldo Villafana, returns from last season. Bargas called last season a disappointment, only because the Eagles lost to Los Amigos, 41-14, in the first round of the playoffs. Other than that, Bargas' team went 7-4 and he became the first coach to guide the Eagles to four straight winning seasons.
The Eagles might have posted a better overall record if not for letting two nonleague games slip away.
"We lost to Irvine in the last couple of seconds by two points. [Against] University, we're beating [the Trojans] by 14 points … [in] the [second quarter]," said Bargas, whose team faces those same Pacific Coast League schools in consecutive weeks this year. "[We went] 4-1 [in our league]. The only team we lost to was [to eventual league champion] Laguna Beach.
"Like I tell the kids, we want to at least be practicing while the Christmas lights are going up during Thanksgiving."
Bargas' players won't have a tough time getting up for practice if the Eagles make a deep run in the playoffs. They will even practice early on Thanksgiving morning, if it means the Eagles are playing the next day in the semifinals.