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Position-By-Position: Mesa numbers low, expectations high

Grant hopes to convince Mustangs' 34 players that battling rival Estancia does not a season make.

August 14, 2012|By David Carrillo PeƱaloza
  • Costa Mesa High senior Noah JeyaRajah is a candidate to start at quarterback for the Mustangs.]
Costa Mesa High senior Noah JeyaRajah is a candidate to… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

Wally Grant isn't a believer of carrying 50 players on a high school varsity football team, just to have a large number.

The only number he cares about as the coach at Costa Mesa High is 34. That is the number of players on his roster this year.

"This is what's made it through my program," Grant said. "[With] what I'm asking them to do year-round, there [are] just not that many kids that are going to do it.

"If we stay healthy, and that's going to be the whole key as long as I'm here, we're going to do what we're supposed to do and we're going to compete. If we get one or two kids hurt, then we become a very average team real quick."

Average isn't how the Mustangs performed last season in Grant's debut in charge of his alma mater.

He led the Mustangs to an 8-3 record, their first eight-win season in nine years, and back to the CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs after they missed the postseason in 2010.

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In the regular-season finale, Grant had Costa Mesa in a first-place showdown in the Orange Coast League with rival Estancia. Both teams went into the Battle for the Bell rivalry game undefeated in league.

Costa Mesa lost to Estancia and the setback cost the Mustangs more than a league title. Grant said the loss affected his players the following week, the start of the playoffs.

"They were still under that mentality that that game was the make-or-break game. That's how they based their high school career was on beating the school rival," said Grant, adding that making the playoffs and winning in the playoffs means more than the Battle for the Bell.

"What I have to get across to my kids is that [the Estancia] game is no more important than the Calvary Chapel game, the Godinez game, the Saddleback game and the Laguna Beach game."

Competing for a league crown is always the goal for Costa Mesa. Another is ending a long postseason drought.

The last playoff triumph for the Mustangs came in 1997. Since then, they are winless in eight postseason appearances.

"Got to get that monkey off this program's back," said Grant, knowing it will be a challenge with tailback Mario Smith gone.

Smith was a difference maker last season as a senior for Costa Mesa. He rushed for 2,155 yards and 28 touchdowns on 197 carries, earning Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Dream Team and Orange Coast League MVP honors. He also scored 30 touchdowns, a Costa Mesa single-season record.

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