Things learned, observed at Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils football camp
Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer chases his wind-blown Hiroshima Carp throwback cap across Berkey Field, remembering how wind factors into so much at historic Berkey-by-the-Bay:
-- Before we gaze at this season’s Red Devils, mindful of a Tuesday as Berkey got raked by 40-mph gusts, let’s take a trip back in time to perhaps the most unusual outcome to a high school football game I ever covered.
-- It was October 1987, American School In Japan at Kinnick, the day after Typhoon Kelly passed west of the Tokyo area, and its effects were still being felt on that Saturday afternoon. This was the old Berkey Field, the one without lights, the ground upon now which stands the George I. Purdy Memorial Fitness and Sports Center. The one with the old ship anchor chains that bordered each sideline.
-- Third quarter of a scoreless game. Kinnick had the coin-toss option in the second half … and chose to defend the south goal, with the wind at its back, a rather curious choice, given the possibility that the Red Devils would be facing a stiff wind in the final quarter. ASIJ demonstrated the perceived foolishness of the choice when the Mustangs got backed up to their goal line and lined up in punt formation of third down. The punter, David Fritzee, let the ball sail over his head and out of the end zone. Score 2-0 Red Devils.
-- Fourth quarter. The wind suddenly ceased. Neither team could establish momentum. Final score, 2-0 Kinnick. Walked out of the press box to the sideline, where Red Devils coach Alan Jones looked over his shoulder, spotted me, turned to his team and said: “Well, at least we didn’t run the score up.” I wasn’t able to talk to ASIJ coach John Crosser for days; he wouldn’t talk after the game, and I finally got an answer to why his punt strategy when I called him the next week.
-- It turned out, Jones at halftime had gone into his office at the old Thew Gym, telephoned the weather folks and asked when the wind might possibly die down. The answer was what spurred him to take the wind in the third period; had the wind continued, he might have taken the wind in the fourth quarter of what might have ended in a 0-0 tie.
-- Back to the current Red Devils.
-- It’s been nearly a generation since the last time a Kinnick football team raised a banner or a trophy of any type come the end of a regular football season. Fourteen years, in fact, since the last of the Red Devils’ run of four straight Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools championships.
-- It’s been 15 years since Kinnick has beaten the team generally viewed as the gold standard of DODDS Pacific football, Yokota, with its plethora of Kanto and DODDS Japan titles, five Rising Sun Bowls and the last two Far East Division I titles. Oct. 16, 1998, to be exact, a 28-0 shutout. A stretch of 28 straight meetings over the next 14 seasons have ended in victory for the Panthers, futility for the Red Devils.
-- Could this be the year? Kinnick returns 29 players, 12 of whom started. Plus, 12 seniors dot the roster; leadership and veteran experience aplenty. Plus, there’s the matter of Yokota having graduated 22 players, including its entire offense; reigning Division II champion Zama American losing its starting backfield; Robert D. Edgren starting at Square One; and ASIJ having lost much of the reasons for its success the last couple of years.
-- Coach Dan Joley won’t take that bait. And I don’t blame him. You never know what teams will bring to the table. Teams saw blood in the water in 2003, when Yokota’s era of Jo-Jo Anthony, Darren Taylor and Mike Chamberlain ended. Well, what happens a couple of weeks before the season? Roy and Chris Roach step off the plane from Virginia. Two more Rising Sun Bowls for Panther Nation.
-- Joley stresses that his best 11 on offense and best 11 on defense make for a pretty good team. The parts are even interchangeable. The players have high football IQ, are coachable, respectful and rather low maintenance. But beyond that, there’s not much depth and the dynamic changes when people are moved around or when substitutes enter the fray.
-- One must always approach no matter who you play with a modicum of respect, Joley insists. The Yokotas, Edgrens, Zamas and ASIJs and others “will be good football teams on Fridays,” he said. “With the rigors of the season, you never know.”
-- One thing that has changed about Kinnick football is, no more Robert Stovall. Joley’s assistant the last three years and Kinnick’s head coach for 13 seasons from 1994, is spending his first fall in 25 years not on a football sideline.
-- One thing that’s not changed, is Jonathan Parker and the Red Devil marching band practicing on what used to be Thew Gym’s grounds. What will they be playing this season? A medley of songs ranging from Alicia Keys’ “Girl On Fire” to an old 1970s disco standard “That’s the Way I Like It,” by Miami’s own Harry Casey, aka KC, and his Sunshine Band. Kinnick’s band is currently the only high school marching band in the Pacific. Parker has not lost his passion for music, but he has trimmed down, as has Joley. Fitness, music and football, all the rage at Yokosuka.