Football's a numbers game more than ever
When the 2012 DODDS Europe high school football season kicks off Saturday with three small-schools games, numbers will assume even more importance than usual.
The most significant of those numbers in a season marked by the ever-increasing increasing pace of transformation in Europe concern enrollment totals. Many schools, ranging in size from final-edition Heidelberg in Division I, which hasn’t enough players to field a JV team, to tiny Menwith Hill in D-3 have seen their enrollment figures drop this season.
Menwith Hill, for example, is down to just 66 high-school students. Even traditional powers such as Bitburg and Aviano have seen declines as the centers of population shift to growing areas such as Wiesbaden, Patch and SHAPE, where 50 players, many of them international students, have turned out enthusiastically.
Baumholder’s decline in population had the greatest immediate effect. The Bucs have dropped from D-II to the nine-man wars of D-III for 2012.
The most significant on-field numbers concern the three-time defending European D-II champion Bitburg Barons, who are riding a 22-game winning streak, fifth longest in school-system history. The Barons, unbeaten since the third game of the 2009 season, and D-III champion Rota, which is riding a seven-game winning streak, were last season’s lone unbeaten teams.
Bitburg also is involved in the individual numbers that matter going into the season. They’ll suit up two of the just seven returning 2011 All-Europeans, two-way lineman choice Colton Engelmeier, a 6-foot-2, 290-pounder, and linebacker Bryson Randall, a 5-10, 190-pound linebacker.
Three coaches take the reins for the first time at their schools for 2012. B.J. Walker replaces Carter Hollenbeck at Baumholder, Steve Altstiel takes over at Naples and former volunteer coach Randy Potter officially becomes head coach at SHAPE.
Three defending champs are contenders again.
In Division I, Wiesbaden should be most closely challenged by talented Vilseck and numbers-rich Ramstein, making a bid to return to the title game. Vilseck, with its speed and skill-position experience, and Ramstein each can call on a returning All-European, but don’t rule out Patch, Ramstein coach Carlos Amonin advises.
“Patch is growing,” he wrote in response to questions about the season, “and their school numbers now rival ours.”
AFNORTH coach Greg Blankenship sees the possibility of change in D-II, where Marcus George’s Ansbach, which lost to Bitburg in the 2009 and 2011 title games and returns 2011 All-Europe lineman Rahim Beatty, “finally has more talented players than Bitburg.”
Blankenship sees a deep Naples team as the other playoff representative from Division II-South, with Bitburg and International School of Brussels, also a rebuilding team, as the top two in II-North.
Look for D-III champion Rota, with its cadre of 10 seniors, to be heavily involved in the mix again this season, with the biggest obstacles appearing to be athletic teams from Bamberg, the 2011 D-III runner-up, and Baumholder, which is expected to exploit the wide-open spaces of the nine-man game with returning All-Europe receiver Ben McDaniels.
Play begins Saturday with games at Alconbury, Menwith Hill and Sigonella. Baumholder, Brussels and Rota, respectively, will furnish the opening-day opposition.
The rest of the 25 football-playing schools begin their season Sept. 15, with an eye toward making the divisional semifinals scheduled for Oct. 20 in D-III and Oct. 27 in D-I and D-II.
At press time, the site of this season’s Super 6 championship tripleheader, scheduled for Nov. 3, had not yet been confirmed, although the school system expects the event to move from Baumholder to Wiesbaden, where a new artificial surface will allow the teams to ignore Germany’s often-damp November weather.
That won’t be the case the following Saturday at Grafenwöhr, where the second edition of the revived DODDs-Europe All-Star game is scheduled to showcase the top 60 players in Europe.