KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – Many football teams might be happy, even excited after going 4-2.
But to Kadena, owners of five Okinawa Activities Council championships and three Far East Division I titles, that’s far from what the program considers its expectations, particularly falling 42-6 in the D-I semifinals last Oct. 29 at Yokota.
“To us, that felt like a losing season,” said coach Sergio Mendoza, back with the team for a seventh season after almost stepping down. “Our guys are aggressive, fast and better than last year. We’re ready to pay back in kind.”
Mendoza has good reason to feel that way. His backfield returns intact, while his offensive and defensive interior return all but two starters. Many of the players who suited up at 130 pounds or thereabouts have gained “20 to 50 pounds” of off-season muscle.
“We have a good array of freshmen and sophomores who got a lot of playing time last year,” Mendoza said. “It’s going to be more fun.”
One person who won’t be at Mendoza’s side for the first time in more than a decade is Steve Schrock, his longtime offensive coordinator. Months ago, he said he was stepping down for good. Mendoza will call the offense and James Thompson the defensive signals.
“Steve was brilliant. It was a good marriage,” said Mendoza of Schrock, whose son started four seasons for the Panthers and who has worked with Mendoza since their split-squad days with the Kadena Islanders in the early 2000s, before the advent of the Far East playoffs.
“He was fun to work with. He had a big heart for the kids. That’s the hard part to replace.”
Though Gabe Ahner’s graduation left “the biggest hole” in the line, Mendoza is happy with the potential of senior Tyler Putt “and a couple who stepped off the plane who will help the offensive line.”
Then there’s the backfield, with junior quarterbacks Dom Shea and Maverick Giron, multitalented sophomore Justin Sego plus seniors Joseph Hermon and Joey Dyer.
“They’ve grown in height and weight and they remember a lot,” Mendoza said. “They took some shots last season and they’re ready to give them back.”
Kadena Air Base, Okinawa
2011 season record—4-2 overall, .800, 58 points for, 84 points against; 1-1 Okinawa Activities Council, .500, 15 points for, 27 points against. Lost Far East Division I semifinal 42-6 on Oct. 29 at Yokota.
Head coach—Sergio Mendoza, seventh season. Overall record 36-4, five straight Okinawa Activities Council regular-season titles (2006-10), three Class AA championships (2007, ’09, ’10).
Base offense—Wing T, power I, power wishbone.
Key performers—Dominic Shea, Jr., QB; Maverick Giron, Jr., QB; Justin Sego, So., RB; Joey Dyer, Sr., RB; Joseph Hermon, Sr., FB; DeAnte Lara, Jr., FB; Tyler Putt, Sr., L; Tyler Holmes, Sr., DB; D.J. Alexander, Sr., Alex Rojas, Sr., defense (transfer from California).
Strengths—Attitude, work ethic, size and experience in the line, veteran backfield.
Drawbacks—Still young in some areas.
Overview—Contending. Probably not in the same neighborhood as the Speed Inc. days of 2009 and 2010, but well on the way and definitely in the Division I title hunt again.
Saturday, Aug. 25—vs. Osan American, time and site to be determined.
Saturday, Sept. 1—vs. Seoul American, time and site to be determined.
Saturday, Sept. 8—vs. Nile C. Kinnick, time and site to be determined.
Saturday, Sept. 15—at Daegu High, 6 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 28—at Kubasaki, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 13—at Singapore All-Stars, 3 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 20—at American School In Japan, time to be determined.
Friday, Oct. 26—vs. Kubasaki, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 3—at Yokota, 7 p.m.