KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – They’re sights quite familiar in late summer around any high school campus – footballs flying through the air, receivers learning their routes and running backs powering through the right holes in the lines.
Football practices are either gearing up or have already begun at the various football-playing schools in Japan, Korea, Okinawa and Guam, with the start of the season looming the last Friday in August.
DODDS teams in Europe could hold their first day of practice Wednesday, though the first games of the season won’t be held until Sept. 5, with some schools starting play a week after that.
Those on football fields aren't the only athletes training for fall seasons. Athletes in the Pacific and Europe are also now on volleyball and tennis courts as well as cross country paths. Many of those teams start competing after the football teams have taken the field.
There’s one common denominator prevalent among coaches, assistants and players as they engage in workouts, some schools in a two-a-day format, others combining what used to comprise two practices into one lengthy one.
“Everybody’s excited and filled with hope at this time of year,” said coach Steven Merrell of Zama about how all teams are 0-0 and share an equal dose of optimism before the season-opening games.
Kubasaki of Okinawa will defend its Far East Division I title, while Daegu of South Korea enters the 2014 campaign as the reigning Division II champion. The Dragons - for the first time in four years - must tee it up without school rushing record-holder Jarrett Mitchell, while the Warriors are “thinner than I’ve ever been,” coach Ken Walter said.
Practice sessions were authorized to begin on Monday by DODDS Pacific’s area office, which has also capped the number of regular-season games at seven for all teams.
That came about because of changes announced last November by the area office, reducing the length and cutting the number of competition events in all sports, in an effort to maximize classroom time, reduce cost and bring DODDS Pacific programs more in line with DODDS Europe.
Regular-season play begins Aug. 29 with Seoul American at Humphreys and Daegu at Osan. Guam High plays a team to be determined; Guam’s Interscholastic Football League schedule has not yet been released.
All districts will play games Sept. 5. The first inter-district game of the season has Kadena visiting Yokota that day.
Twenty American high schools began official practice sessions for the 2014 campaign. The fall regular season begins the weekend of Sept. 5 and will crown two European champions two months later. Schedules have not been finalized.
The 2014 season will bring some tweaks to the DODDS-Europe divisional alignment, with no Division III champion crowned for the second straight year. The Independent League, a four-team arrangement for smaller schools that crowned Brussels as its inaugural champion last fall, has disbanded. Brussels will play in a local Belgian league, while the IL’s other two varsity members, Menwith Hill and Woodham, will combine forces for a Division II entry.
That new combined team will take over the vacancy left by Schweinfurt/Bamberg. Those two Bavarian schools closed at the end of the 2013-14 school year.
Upstart champion Hohenfels will look to defend its European title as runner-up SHAPE, vanquished dynasty Bitburg and 10 other contenders attempt to unseat the Tigers.
At the Division I level, reigning champ Wiesbaden and runner-up Ramstein headline a six-team field that also includes Kaiserslautern, Lakenheath, Patch and Vilseck.
Staff writer Gregory Broome in Kaiserslautern, Germany, contributed to this report.