Twelfth in a series of DODDS Pacific high school football team previews.
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – Most times, a football coach is apt to want his team to play a tune-up game or two against a non-division opponent before heading into the meat of the season schedule.
Call Yokota’s schedule a football version of an inverted pyramid. The Panthers, coach Tim Pujol said, should find out quickly where they stand with Pacific Division I opponents. They host Kadena on Friday, then play road contests Sept. 13 and 20 at Kubasaki and Seoul American.
“It’s a tough way to ask us to start the season; those games will have Division I implications,” Pujol said. “You’d like to play those games later in the season, but that’s the way the schedule fell.”
The Panthers will soldier on, Pujol said, with a line slightly larger than last year’s. It averages 218 from tackle to tackle.
But there’s a yawning chasm in the backfield, as tailbacks J.J. Henderson and Nick Pedersen have transferred to Florida and Louisiana.
Thus, Pujol says he’ll go with a “tailback by committee” approach, with Shota Sprunger, Nikil Johnson and Jordan Goodman, all sophomores, and senior DeCorio Perry getting some work.
Perry, in particular, is expected to gradually get a larger share of the offensive load to “help fill some of the void left by J.J. and Nick,” Pujol said. Junior Jamarvin Harvey remains at fullback.
Much of the attack will also center around returning junior quarterback Marcus Henagan, who has “matured as a runner … we’ll get getting into more things designed for Marcus, more of a role like Stanley had,” Pujol said of former Panthers passer Stanley Speed.
Yokota will also go to the air more than Pujol has in years past, when the Panthers were known almost exclusively for their ground game. “We’ll have the ability to throw when we need to,” Pujol said.
The experience level will far exceed what the Panthers had at the start of last season, which they ended by winning three of their last four.
“This time last year, we had to overcome the loss of 20 of 22 players” from the 2012 D-I championship team, Pujol said. “My hope is we’re more solid defensively than last year, hope that we can be better defensively in September.”
Overall, Pujol says his players are “a good group. They’re a smart bunch. They have a good football IQ. I’ve enjoyed being at practice with them.”
The trick, he said, is getting them to understand what they’re up against as quickly as possible – as early as 8:30 p.m. Friday, following Friday’s Kadena game.
“We’ll find out right away what it will take to play” in the Nov. 8 Far East D-I title game.