When school starts at Newport Harbor High next week, the day after Labor Day, it won’t for Jeff Brinkley. He retired from the school as a physical education teacher in June, serving 30 1/2 years.
What won’t change for those at Newport Harbor is seeing Brinkley around during the week. He will be there, but only football will fill his schedule.
For the first time, Brinkley can devote all of his time to the sport he has coached at Newport Harbor since 1986. Football is what keeps the 63-year-old young, what keeps him coming back to Newport Harbor.
Brinkley enters his 31st season in charge of the Sailors, spending almost half of his life coaching the Sailors. They kick off the season on Thursday against Pacifica at Orange Coast College at 7:30 p.m. The contest is a home game for Newport Harbor, but all of its dates at home will be on the road.
The renovations to Newport Harbor’s Davidson Field aren’t ready, forcing the Sailors to split their six home games between OCC and Jim Scott Stadium. Having to travel for each game this year is a first for Brinkley.
“It’s never fun getting on the bus every week,” said Brinkley, whose team will also play every regular-season game on synthetic turf.
Brinkley’s teams are no strangers to OCC’s fast surface. The Sailors have played the Battle of the Bay against Corona del Mar twice on it since 2013.
The rivalry game is at OCC again, on Sept. 16, but Brinkley isn’t looking ahead. Two games come before that, Thursday’s opener with Pacifica and a Sept. 8 affair with Pico Rivera El Rancho at Jim Scott Stadium.
“They’ve got a game under their belt,” Brinkley said of the Mariners, who opened the season last week with a 37-34 triple-overtime loss to Trabuco Hills at Bolsa Grande High. “They’re good. They have a good quarterback [Ben Jefferson] who is very athletic. We need to contain him.”
Stopping the opponent last year proved problematic for the Sailors, who gave up 30.9 points per game. Hurting the defense was having too many of its players also start on offense, and fatigue caught up.
Newport Harbor is going away from starting players both ways. Brinkley said only two — senior Levi Hooper and junior Jake Bashore — will see a lot of time on offense and defense, Hooper and Bashore at wide receiver and Hooper at cornerback and Bashore at safety.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that are pretty equal,” Brinkley said. “It’s not like in the past where some guy was probably far superior to the next guy, so we played him both ways. This year there’s more equality among talent.”
Keeping players fresh can only bode well for the Sailors’ chances to bounce back from last year. They missed the CIF Southern Section playoffs for only the seventh time under Brinkley, finishing 4-6 overall and in fourth place in the Sunset League at 2-3.
Four starters return on offense, including senior running back Cole Kinder, who rushed 223 times for 1,317 yards and nine touchdowns last year, and Hooper and senior left tackle Mike Jarboe. The defensive side has five starters back, highlighted by senior middle linebacker Gage Roberson, Hooper and senior outside linebacker Tom Phillips.
The team to beat in league in Brinkley’s eyes is defending champion Edison, which also has a coach entering his 31st season with its program. Dave White, a Newport Beach resident, is retiring after this season, and Brinkley said there’s no timetable for him to call it quits.
This year marks Brinkley’s 39th coaching high school football, eight of those years were in Norwalk. Brinkley has an overall record of 266-164-7, with 237 wins coming with the Sailors.
Brinkley expects more success. He said the Sailors would be in the hunt for one of the top three spots in league. The top three programs earn automatic playoff berths, and with Newport Harbor moving into Division 6, 22 schools are battling for 16 spots.
The Sailors will find out during nonleague play how they match up with two of the top seven teams in Division 6. Hacienda Heights Los Altos, ranked No. 7, plays Newport Harbor at Jim Scott Stadium on Sept. 23, and the following week, the Sailors are at No. 2 Manhattan Beach Mira Costa, a Western Division semifinalist last year.
“I don’t know,” Brinkley said when asked whether it was a good thing or bad thing to see Los Altos or Mira Costa during the regular season, if the teams run into each other in the postseason. “I scheduled Los Altos in the off-season, and talked to Mira Costa [Coach Don Morrow] about keeping the series going, and we decided to keep them. Then after [the section changed the divisions in June], they both fell into our new division.”
Newport Harbor also features a new starting quarterback. The Sailors turn to last year’s freshman quarterback — Sam Barela — after starter Michael Bonds transferred in February to La Cañada St. Francis, where his uncle, Jim Bonds, is the head football coach.
Barela is only a sophomore, but Brinkley liked how the underclassman performed during the summer.
“He actually put up better numbers than [former Newport Harbor quarterback Cole] Norris did in the summertime,” Brinkley said of Barela, who like Norris got his start as a sophomore and went on to break practically every Newport Harbor passing record before he graduated in 2015.
Helping Barela out will be Kinder, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder.
Brinkley said the offense is going to go through Kinder, who has combined 2,189 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground the past two years. Brinkley said many Ivy League schools are interested in Kinder, who’s also a standout in the classroom.
Another younger player to look out for is Dayne Chalmers, a sophomore receiver and defensive back.
“He’s a good athlete. He’s got length,” Brinkley said of the 6-4 Chalmers, who’s also a star volleyball player at Newport Harbor. “He goes and gets the ball.”
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