There is a sense of pride, and excitement for the future, when the Newport Harbor High football team thinks about 2012.
The Sailors went 7-5, 4-1 in the Sunset League and reached the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division quarterfinals last year. It was the first time the Tars had reached the CIF quarterfinals since 2007.
Much of their success stemmed from a talented quarterback. You'd think they were led by a senior signal-caller.
That would be false.
The young Cole Norris, now a junior, is one of many reasons the Sailors are poised for another big year.
Granted there is concern about inexperience on the offensive line, but with Norris' return at quarterback, Newport Harbor is set to accomplish great feats again.
Norris is not the trigger-man for a trendy spread offense at Newport Harbor. He's the leader for Coach Jeff Brinkley's pro-style system. The offense has the ability to bring out the best in its players, Brinkley said.
The expectation is that it will bring out the best in Norris, who threw for 1,463 yards and 16 touchdowns with six interceptions. He completed 109 of his 186 passes on his way to first-team All-Sunset League honors.
Norris, who started 10 games, led the Sailors to a 7-3 record, which included five straight wins, the program's longest winning streak since 2005.
Brinkley sees success for Norris, if he continues to play within the system.
"Physically he is as good as I've probably had," said Brinkley, who enters his 28th year with the Sailors. "Mentally, he's still growing in terms of understanding the system and playing within the system. But he has the physical ability. He can throw the ball down the field extremely well. He can spin it. The mental end of it is the biggest thing. You need the quarterback on the field to be a continuation of the offensive coordinator, which happens to be me. And he's learning all the time. He was only a sophomore last year. I had other guys in the past who were seniors who were farther along mentally than he is. But physically he is as good as we've had."
Brinkley admits the Sailors will most likely throw the ball more than in years past. But he said protection will be key.
Ramsey Hufford, a senior who has college offers from Fresno State and UC Davis, is the leader of that protection on the offensive line.
Hufford, the 2012 Sunset League Defensive Lineman of the Year who earned All-CIF honors, also adds to the high expectations at Newport Harbor, which is ranked No. 8 in the Southwest Division.
However, Brinkley believes the standard is always high for his program. This year is no different, especially with a special quarterback returning.
"The expectations are always high," Brinkley said of the program, which has three CIF section titles (1994, 1999, 2005), 10 CIF quarterfinals appearances and 13 league championships. "The players can come in and they can look at the wall and see all the success, and see the trophies in there for CIF players of the year and see All-CIF players. They know the expectations are to win. That's why we do win. They know that's what's expected of them."
The standard must be high for the Sailors with a tough schedule ahead of them. Newport Harbor opens the season Friday night at Trabuco Hills. Its nonleague schedule also features strong teams, Palos Verdes (CIF Southern Section Northern Division, Bay League champion), Corona del Mar (CIF Southern Section Southern Division, Pacific Coast League champion), San Clemente and Mira Costa.
In the Sunset League things won't get any easier. Yet, at least, Newport Harbor will open league with three straight home games, against Los Alamitos (Oct. 10), defending champion Edison (Oct. 18) and Fountain Valley (Oct. 25).
"I think the league will be better this year," Brinkley said. "A lot of the teams have a lot coming back. HB and Los Al have their returning QBs. Edison is loaded again. It'll be tough. The key thing for us is staying healthy and how our young guys will progress. To see how they can handle the speed on the varsity level. If they progress, then we have a chance."
Senior receiver/cornerback Quest Truxton, a first-team all-league player who was also on the Daily Pilot Dream Team, believes Newport Harbor will be a contender in the Sunset League.