When Wally Grant was named interim coach for the 2011 Costa Mesa High football season, he introduced his players to three rules.
There is the time-honored Golden Rule. Then, there is majority rule (if the majority of the program is expected to do something, everyone else must comply in a timely fashion). The third rule is: everyone must protect the team.
The result of the first three rules, mostly the majority rule that centers around commitment to practice and weight training, soon led to a dwindling roster … and the formation of a fourth rule.
"No one gets hurt," Grant said of the latest dictum, which is necessitated by an available talent pool that might include as few as a couple dozen uniformed bodies on game nights.
"Pretty soon, kids understood I expected a whole different level of commitment to the program," said Grant, who has pared his initial turnout from 60 players to, at last count, 36, including the varsity and junior varsity rosters. "It was a slow attrition that began in November with all the lifting that we did. We're going to suit up the kids who come every week and do what they're supposed to do."
The limited numbers further simplify Grant's desire to play many players on offense and defense.
Here's a position-by-position look at the Mustangs:
Quarterback: Senior Nathan Alvis returns after throwing for 1,567 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushing for 508 yards and 11 TDs in a spread offense that saw him almost exclusively in the shotgun. The left-handed slinger will move under center in Grant's smashmouth run-oriented scheme, that will most often feature a pro-set.
But Grant said Alvis' throwing ability will dictate a more pass-friendly game plan than the double-wing attack Grant learned under former Costa Mesa and current Tustin High Coach Myron Miller.
"He's embraced [the change]," Grant said. "It wasn't what he wanted, but he has seen what we do and that we were highly successful in summer passing league by running our stuff. He has a Division-I arm. And though he is only 6-foot tall, it's my job to make sure he has some film we can show that makes him attractive to college coaches."
Junior Curt Williams is the backup.
Running backs: Senior Mario Smith, a transfer from Silverado High in Victorville, figures to be the featured ballcarrier. He has run the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds and Grant has been impressed by his potential as a game-breaker.
Smith (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) bolted 80 yards for a touchdown in Friday's scrimmage against Corona del Mar and he collected 130 yards on 12 carries against the Sea Kings.
Justin Smith, a junior and Mario's younger brother, is another tailback with potential, while sophomore Oronde Crenshaw (6-1, 200), the son of DeWayne Crenshaw, an All-CIF standout for Mesa in the early 1990s, is another threat in the backfield.
Grant, who plans to call the plays, though he assigns both offensive and defensive coordinator titles as "by committee," also mentioned junior Jose Villaponda and senior Ulices Martinez as those adding backfield depth.
Receivers: Jordan Walden was the leading receiver a year ago and, along with fellow senior Trace Curet, they provide reliable, experienced returning starters at the wideout spots.
"They are legitimate kids who can catch," said Grant, who listed junior Noah JeyaRajah as another with an "incredible set of hands."
Tight end: Senior Charles Mankin (6-4, 280) has worked hard to come back from knee surgery that sidelined him last season. His presence will be felt as a blocker and a pass-catcher, Grant said.
Senior Jake Comer, a returning starter on defense, and junior Anthony McCormick will also see action, as the Mustangs will sometimes utilize two tight ends.
Offensive line: Gargantuan left-tackle Andrew Albers graduated after sharing Orange Coast League Lineman of the Year honors last season. But junior Jake Martin (6-1, 200), who shifts from right to left tackle, is a returning starter, as are guards Christian Contreras (6-2, 265), a senior, and junior Oscar Reyes (5-9, 210).
Senior Joseph Delgado (6-2, 290), who did not play last year, is slated to start at right tackle, while the center position should be filled by senior Kevin Salyer (5-8, 200).
Grant lists sophomore Marco Zalpa (6-2, 235) and senior Idren Luna (5-9, 195) as those who will add depth.
Defensive line: Comer, who played some outside linebacker a year ago, shifts to end in Grant's system, which he termed the Arizona flex and/or Buddy Ryan 46.
Martin, McCormick and Martinez will see time at the other end as Grant hopes a rotation can help preserve his horses up front.
"It's not two-way players, as much as it is a player and a half," Grant said of his plan to rotate defensive linemen, particularly those contributing on offense.
Mankin is the projected starter at noseguard, while Reyes is the frontrunner at tackle.
Contreras and Delgado also figure to see plenty of time at the inside positions.
Linebackers: Crenshaw is a sideline-to-sideline middle 'backer who should be, by design, freed up to make scores of tackles. Villaponda (5-11, 195) is the likely starter at flex 'backer.
JeyaRajah (6-1, 170), who started some at safety last season, shifts to outside linebacker, with Curet and senior Marcus Haynes manning the other side.
"It will look a lot like a four-four scheme most of the time," Grant said.
Secondary: Walden returns at one corner and the Smith brothers are expected to man the other side, where then-senior DeSean Grayson earned All-Newport-Mesa and all-league honors and represented the Mustangs in the Orange County All-Star Game.
Grant said the safety spot will be manned by Alvis, Haynes and, at times, Walden.
Senior Josue Castaneda provides depth at cornerback.
Special teams: Former Mustang and NFL kicker Benny Ricardo paid a surprise visit to work with the kickers for a couple days, Grant said. Senior Peter Marquez and Jake Lux are competing for the kicking and punting jobs. Grant said both have strong legs and can regularly kick off into the end zone and surpass 50 yards with their punts.
Curet is the long snapper and Alvis is the holder.
Returns will be handled by Walden, Curet, Mario Smith and Justin Smith, Grant said.