MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan – Much is new about Robert D. Edgren football this coming season. Above and beyond the new turfed practice field and a new head coach with a new staff of assistants, there’s a new attitude, one that the team hopes will signal a return to mid-2000s title glory.
“There’s a lot better bond this year,” returning sophomore Leo Austin said Thursday after two-a-day practice. “Everybody has a better, more positive vibe this year.”
“There’s a lot more determination and heart this year,” veteran junior quarterback Tristan Jefferson said.
Players and coaches are hopeful that the new outlook and attitude will spell contention for a Far East Division II title this fall – a far cry from a season ago, when the team almost self-destructed in October after falling short in its bid to reach the title game.
Soon after losing to Zama American 41-7 on Sept. 30 and seeing their title-game shot go up in smoke, the team nearly folded for its final three games in October. That carried over to new coach Blaine Miller’s first team meeting early this month – only nine players attended.
“I wouldn’t say I was discouraged, but we did have our work cut out for us,” said Miller, a civilian and a veteran of coaching stateside ball who works for Misawa’s 35th Force Support Squadron.
He set about to change last season’s culture, creating radio spots, visiting the Air Mobility Command terminal every time the Patriot Express arrived, and sending his veteran ballplayers out to recruit.
“It’s not about a season, but a program,” Miller said, adding that he would allow newcomers a bit of rope. “Give me five days, I’d tell them, and if they didn’t like it, they could leave and there would be no hard feelings. All but one stayed,” Miller said.
Now comes the challenge: Building a team that can channel its inner Eagles from 2006-08, when Edgren won three straight D-II titles. And right off the bat, Edgren hosts perennial DODDS Japan power Yokota in its season opener on Aug. 24.
Jefferson feels the new practice regimen will lead to different results on the field. “Everything in practice is building up from small building blocks, inches, spacing. Coach is really precise about everything; we do it until we get it right,” Jefferson said.
That Yokota is first up doesn’t bother Miller. “Why not?” he said. “I never worry about the schedule. As long as we do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll be OK.”
And should the Eagles be OK, the chase for berths in the D-II title game could be a tight one. “It’ll be a close race,” Austin said. “ No one team will be a clear favorite.”
Robert D. Edgren Eagles
Misawa Air Base, Japan
2011 season record—0-7 overall, .000, 23 points for, 194 points against; 0-5 DODDS Japan, 13 points for, 159 points against; fourth in DODDS Japan.
Coach—Blaine Miller, first season.
Key returners—Tristan Jefferson, Jr., CB-WR; Louis Murphy, Jr., DE-WR; Chris Finco, Sr., OL-LB: Spencer Robison, Sr., OL-DL; Aric Butterfield, Jr., LB.
Key newcomers—Tyrone Bacalso, Jr., WR-DB (transfer from Hawaii); Khalil Williams, Sr., WR-DB; Joel Loy, Sr., OL-LB; Chris Minton, Sr. OL-LB.
Strength—Better, more improved teamwork, atmosphere, attitude; strong interior potential.
Overview—Rebuilding, but if the fresh attitude and newfound dedication in Eagles Nation carries over to the games against Division II teams, at least, Edgren could be a contender for small-schools honors in November. Plenty of freshmen and sophomores with room to grow.
Friday, Aug. 24--vs. Yokota, 7 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 31--at Nile C. Kinnick, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 8--vs. Osan American, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 21--at American School In Japan, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 29--at Daegu High, 6 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 5--vs. Zama American, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 12--vs. American School In Japan, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 19--at Zama American, 7 p.m.