Things learned, observed in USFJ-AFL Weeks 4.0, 5.0
Last Tuesday was a crucial day in the 14-season history of the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League: A first meeting between league leadership (the new commissioner, Joe Howell) and a highly positioned USFJ official (incoming command Chief Master Sgt. James Laurent).
Over lunch Tuesday at Yokota Air Base’s Historic Route 16 Japan (nee Outback O’Club Annex), Laurent and Howell discussed the league, the past and the future of interservice football in Japan and the Pacific (DISCLAIMER: I was in attendance at Howell’s invitation).
The discussion was affable and engaging, Howell expressing the need for USFJ to provide even token recognition, that even if financial support couldn’t be offered for equipment, referees and transportation – and face it, varsity sports funding has been in decline for decades and not about to increase any time soon. Without saying so directly, Laurent made it quite clear that for the league to gain USFJ command support, the need must be demonstrated from the rank and file, teams, players and coaches.
That goes back to commitment, on a number of levels.
Commitment by each team to engage in their respective MWR, community services and force support outlets, requesting their assistance for any number of things and offering to work hand-in-hand with them to make things work. Even if all they can provide is a couple of goal-post cushions here, a new down box there and if they’re years away from receiving full financial support.
Commitment by teams to engage their respective bases’ leaderships. Starting with inviting them to preside over pre-game coin tosses.
Commitment by teams to engage their local base public affairs functions and AFN to market their on-field product, letting them know when games take place and where. And to keep doing so even if those functions don’t respond at first.
Commitment by teams to honor their schedule, to work hand-in-hand with opposing teams when a scheduling conflict occurs.
Commitment by teams to ensure their respective officials associations possess copies of and know the league by-laws inside and out. Commitment by the officials associations to ensure that each game is refereed consistently with the rules applied the same way no matter where games occur.
Commitment by teams to put a polished product on the field. Ensuring that sufficient numbers turn out for practice to make the offense and defense function as they should on game day, and not have four or five show up for practice, then 50 come on game day all expecting to play.
And commitment not just for the teams to look out for themselves, but to take the long view and do things with the league as a whole in mind.
It will take time and effort. Nothing like that comes overnight. It may take years of frustration and some may give up because of perceived lack of progress. The sort of things the teams and league are seeking is sort of like what you get when you visit the deli man cutting bologna, one slice at a time.
A few on-field modest proposals for teams to make their engines purr just a bit better:
Yokota needs to put two good halves of football together. The Warriors, with veteran Darone Frierson under center, appear to be one team that can consistently run a spread offense with the proper expectation realized. Frierson was 13-for-20 for 203 yards and five touchdowns in the first half of Saturday’s 33-6 romp over Misawa, but the offense went silent in the second half, which the Jets won 6-0. Consistency is the key.
Kadena could generate more firepower by getting receiver Devon Cheatham more involved in the offense. He’s the tallest player in the South Division and Cheatham, who played college ball, gave Hansen secondary types fits in the Dragons’ final drive in the Wolfpack’s 8-2 May 5 home win.
Hansen and Misawa could each benefit from working on their ground games a tad more. Despite getting soundly punished by Yokota, particularly in the first half, the Jets showed some signs of life when they went to a full-house backfield in the fourth quarter and ran what my old high school coach called “tank” plays.
And any time your offense hasn’t generated more than 100 offensive yards in a game, as Hansen couldn’t May 5, it’s time to consider something a bit more basic, if for no other reason to keep the ball out of the opponents’ hands more.
Good to see Hansen traveling north to play at Yokota this coming Saturday. First inter-division game the league has played since the Torii Bowl last August, and the first in the regular season this year. Strongly recommend the Wolfpack work on their pass defense.