With little left on shelf, Yokota restocking
Addressing his players during Thursday's Panthers practice at Yokota Air Base, Japan, is 15th-yearcoach Tim Pujol, who enters the season with a 119-19 record at Yokota, 13 DODDS Japan and Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools titles, five Rising Sun Bowl championships and the last two DODDS Pacific Far East Division I titles.
Stars and Stripes
Fourth in a series of high school football previews.
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – A talented senior class can bring a lot of benefits to a high school football program.
Yokota, which won the last two Far East Division I championships, is evidence of that.
That class graduated in June, though.
Now, the Panthers face a 2013 campaign with just four returners, two starters and 18 of the 34 players in the program being freshmen.
“We knew this was coming,” said coach Tim Pujol, who enters his 15th season as one of the winningest coaches at any DODDS Pacific program. “We all knew there was going to be change right up front.”
Farewell, then, to a team featuring four running backs (Donovan Ball, Morgan Breazell, Raymond Butler and Stanley Speed) and five linemen, led by Stripes’ 2012-12 Athlete of the Year Jesse Hogan, who played together for three seasons.
A season ago, that group went 11-0, outscored opponents 470-105, the backs amassed 3,640 yards and 57 touchdowns. Since 2010, they went 26-2 and outscored opponents 1,067-202.
So is there blood in the water, opponents might sense? Is this the year the Panthers finally fall?
“It makes a team look vulnerable,” Pujol said, “but I have a firm belief that we have guys who will step into their shoes and will represent the school well.”
Pujol will turn to the only remaining starters from that team, defensive end Ke’Ondre Davis and defensive back J.J. Henderson, along with backup quarterback Marcus Henagan and senior backup end A.J. Leake to try to keep the Panther express rolling.
With the line averaging about 150 pounds, down about 100 from 2012, “we’re going to try to work with the group on technique and develop a passing game,” Pujol said. “If we can’t run effectively, Marcus and Nick can throw. We may have to be more wide open on offense.”
One thing Pujol need not worry about is special teams; freshman Noah Macias should fit departed kicker Cody Trask’s shoes well, Pujol said.
Some of his players were in the junior varsity system, which mirrors the Panthers’ varsity. “That makes me thankful, how much those guys learned on the JV,” Pujol said. “They’re mostly home grown, and the starting backs played JV ball.”
Pujol says “anything’s possible” with his young team. “I like the way they work, it’s a pleasure coming to practice with these guys. I’m looking forward to the season. It’s going to be different.”
They might or might not do a D-I three-peat, or add to their totals of 13 DODDS Japan and 30 Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools titles. But Pujol says they aren’t hiding behind rebuilding signs.
“They expect to win,” Pujol said. “The expectations are high. If the season were to not go well, I’m sure the guys would be extremely disappointed.”