Kinnick's long drought could be over
Nile C. Kinnick senior Marcel Daniels gets some pointers from head coach Dan Joley during Tuesday's Red Devils practice at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.
Stars and Stripes
This article has been corrected
Second in a series of high school football previews.
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – Dustin Wilson was 2 years old when Nile C. Kinnick last beat Yokota. He was 3 when the Red Devils last won a title of any kind. The old Rising Sun Bowl hadn’t even existed yet, let alone DODDS Pacific Far East playoffs.
But with Yokota having graduated 22 seniors and Zama American its entire backfield, might this finally be the year that Wilson, now a senior quarterback, and the Red Devils finally win a championship?
“We don’t have a lot of size, but we have heart and dedication,” said Wilson, a three-year starter at QB, during Tuesday’s practice at Yokosuka’s Berkey Field. He was in civvies, a precaution against injury leading up to Friday’s home opener against Zama.
“We have the tools this year. Every other team (in Japan) lost key players. For us, we have to keep learning, we have to keep winning. If we’re going to make it, it will have to be on speed and smarts.”
Last season was Kinnick’s turn for losing many key players, and this year, “we have a lot of guys who are stepping up,” Wilson said.
So, does that mean a championship is within reach?
Whether other teams are hurting from graduation and transfers matters little to fourth-year coach Dan Joley.
“I’m not going to buy into Yokota’s down, Zama’s down; those will be good football teams on Friday nights,” Joley said. “I don’t know what to expect out of any of the teams.”
Minding his own backyard is first and foremost in Joley’s mind. While his Red Devils feature a “great 11 on each side of the ball,” it’s how Kinnick will deal with when injuries and other forms of attrition occur during the course of a three-month season.
“There’s a lack of depth and the dynamics change when we move people around,” Joley said. “We’re a good team if we’re healthy in the right spots. If we have our best 11 on offense and best 11 on defense, we’ll be a good team.”
Joley says team chemistry is the best it’s been on his watch; they’re coachable, they listen and they can adapt to adversities. “We have a lot of good football intellect, players who can play multiple positions,” he said.
Whether that will translate into victory, especially against a Yokota team that Kinnick hasn’t beaten since a 28-0 shutout on Oct. 16, 1998 – a span of 28 games – remains to be seen. It hasn’t won a title of any kind since the 1999 Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools crown.
This could be the year, Joley said, but much needs to go right – and very little wrong – for it to happen. “With the rigors of a long season, you never know,” he said.
Marcel Daniels was incorrectly identified in pictures in an earlier version of this article.