Coach Jeff Turley and running back Cooper Malerstein at Marina's football field. (Photo by Emily Rasmussen, Contributor)

Marina on the rise after a long struggle


HUNTINGTON BEACH - It has been a tough 12 seasons for the Marina football team.

Marina hasn’t won many games during that time, and hasn’t won at all in the Sunset League, where it competes each season against some of the top teams in Orange County.

The last time the Vikings won a league game was 2004, when they beat Huntington Beach, 24-14.

Even before that victory, Marina’s coach, Jeff Turley, said the Vikings were the underdog.

“We are the underdog … I mean there’s no question,” said Turley. “When you’ve been at the bottom of the Sunset League, when you’ve been down there, you’re obviously the underdog until you prove differently.”

This is Turley’s third season at Marina. It’s a bit different from his previous position - assistant coach for Long Beach Poly, one of the most succesful programs in the state.

“The biggest thing coming here from Poly was being humble,” Turley said. “I had never coached a team in any sport that never won a game. So that was an eye opener to me.”

After jumping into the struggling football program at Marina, Turley soon discovered how negative the school’s attitude toward the team was.

“When I start realizing how tough it was for these guys to be here every day and deal with teachers and people making jokes about you,” he said. “My staff - we made a vow, we’re going to change this.”

According to senior running back Cooper Malerstein, an all-league selection last year, that change has begun.

“I couldn’t tell you how many games I’ve won in the past three years … maybe like three,” Malerstein said. “But we’ve already done that in one year.”

The Vikings have a 3-2 record at the midway point in this season, which is their best start since 2000, when they began 5-0. They have a bye this week before heading into league play against Los Alamitos on Oct. 7.

The change at Marina can be felt inside the school.

“The biggest component to us getting better is changing the mindset,” said Malerstein. “Back when I was a freshman and all the way up until (Turley) came in, everybody was like, ‘We already lost.’ Everybody hated the football team and nobody wanted to be a part of it.”

Now, after Marina started the season with three consecutive wins, which earned the Vikings a No. 8 ranking in CIF-SS Division 12, that culture is beginning to transform.

“You can definitely feel it, just walking around the school throughout the day,” Malerstein said. “Everybody seems to be more positive about the football team.”

In turn, the Viking’s confidence on the field has increased dramatically.

“All the sudden you could see people kind of believing in themselves,” Malerstein said. “As we started (winning), they won’t just like lay down and die in a way, like every (other) time we played.”

What are the Vikings doing differently? According to Turley, nothing has changed since he took over the program.

He credits the shift in fans’ attitude and rise in player confidence to the early payoff from a foundation laid down by the team’s new coaches when they arrived.

“It’s been something that we’ve been working on for three years now and it’s kind of come together,” Turley said. “(Malerstein’s) senior class kind of realized their sophomore year what we were building and what we were moving towards. Now they’re getting to see the results of all that hard work they’ve put in.”

One area of change has taken place in the weight room. The Vikings are now, Turley said, as strong or stronger than their opponents.

“This is a building process that we are doing,” Turley said. “It’s not going to happen overnight because as (Malerstein) said, the culture of the school and the community was so negative towards these guys.”

Although the Vikings have lost two in a row, against Santa Ana and St. Anthony, Turley and Malerstein are determined to end the 12-season losing streak in the Sunset League this season.

The first league game for Marina is against Los Alamitos at Westminster High. After that they play Huntington Beach (Oct. 14), Edison (Oct. 21), Newport Harbor (Oct. 28) and Fountain Valley (Nov. 3).

“Everything we’ve done each week, offensively and defensively, has been a progression to build towards league (games),” Turley said. “I know we’re going to win.”

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