CAMP ZAMA, Japan — Football games between Robert D. Edgren and Zama American take on a new meaning — and sense of urgency — this season.

Due to a drop in enrollment, Zama now plays at the Class A level. And unlike the past four years, when Edgren got a pass into the Far East title game as Japan’s lone Class A team, the Eagles have company.

"I think it’s great. Competition is good. It will be good for Zama, too," Edgren coach Chris Waite said.

While Edgren aims at a fourth straight Class A banner and its third straight plus-.500 season, the Trojans, 0-7 last year, aim for their first winning season since 2003. A Class A banner would end a 46-year drought; no Zama boys team has won a Far East team title since 1963.

Though Edgren-Zama clashes are important, so too are the rest of each team’s games, Waite and Trojans coach Steven Merrell said.

"Every game is important," Waite said. "We’ve never seen some games as more important than others."

"It wouldn’t mean anything to win anything if you don’t have a successful season," Merrell said. "We need to see it as every game matters and play at a championship level every game."

Waite remembers 2005, when he was an assistant coach, going to Osan at 1-7 and losing the Class A title game 16-14. "I don’t know how I’d have felt about winning a championship after a rough season," Waite said.

But far more than being able to stay with its Class A opposition in Korea, Edgren has proven it can run with the big boys, too.

Under Waite, the Eagles are 16-9, with one-point losses in five games, three to perennial DODDS-Japan champion Yokota, and a seminal 20-18 home victory over Yokota last Oct. 24.

"For three years, we’ve been in the ballpark with Yokota," Waite said. "I definitely think we’re competitive" with Class AA teams.

They get a chance to see how competitive when they host Kadena on Sept. 26. The Panthers have reached the past three Class AA finals, winning the 2007 title game 39-13 over Yokota.

Taking aim at their 11th straight DODDS-Japan and Kanto Plain titles, Yokota remains thin in numbers and experience. Only five starters return from last year’s team that went 6-3, the Panthers’ worst mark since 1999.

Yokota starts two freshmen in the offensive line — something coach Tim Pujol has never done in his decade with the program. Much depends on how the offensive and defensive lines develop, he said.

With the Trojans moving to Class A, that leaves only Yokota and Nile C. Kinnick to battle for DODDS-Japan’s Class AA semifinal berth.

Gary Wilson returns to the Red Devils’ helm after a one-year hiatus. Kinnick appears solid, he said, on offense, where three starters return to the line and a wealth of JV move-ups and new move-ins will bolster the ranks. But the defense is young and green, he said.

DODDS-Japan play opens Friday with Kinnick hosting Yokota and Edgren visiting Zama. Kickoffs are at 7 p.m.

ScheduleFriday, Aug. 28Yokota at Kinnick, 7 p.m.Edgren at Zama, 7 p.m.Friday, Sept. 4Kinnick at Edgren, 7 p.m.Zama at Yokota, 7 p.m.Friday, Sept. 11American School In Japan at Kinnick, 7 p.m.Yokota at Edgren, 7 p.m.Friday, Sept. 18Kinnick at Zama, 7 p.m.Edgren at American School In Japan, 7 p.m.Saturday, Sept. 19Kubasaki (Okinawa) at Yokota, 7 p.m.Friday, Sept. 25Kinnick at Yokota, 7 p.m.American School In Japan at Zama, 7 p.m.Saturday, Sept. 26Kadena (Okinawa) at Edgren, 1 p.m.Friday, Oct. 2Yokota at Zama, 7 p.m.Saturday, Oct. 3American School In Japan at Edgren, 1 p.m.Friday, Oct. 9Edgren at Kinnick, 7 p.m.Yokota at American School In Japan, 7 p.m.Friday, Oct. 16Zama at Edgren, 7 p.m.Saturday, Oct. 17Kinnick at American School In Japan, 1 p.m.Kadena (Okinawa) at Yokota, 7 p.m.Friday, Oct. 23American School In Japan at Zama, 7 p.m.Edgren at Yokota, 7 p.m.Friday, Oct. 30American School In Japan at Yokota, 7 p.m.Zama at Kinnick, 7 p.m.

Team capsulesYokota PanthersYokota Air Base2008-6-3, .667, 269 points for, 114 points against; 5-1 Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Japan League, .833, 215 points for, 63 points against; 5-0 Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools, 1.000, 192 points for, 59 points against. Won school- and league-record 10th straight DODDS-Japan and Kanto Plain titles. Owns 38-game regular-season Kanto Plain winning streak. Lost DODDS-Pacific Far East Class AA semifinal 19-16 to Seoul American on Nov. 8.Head coach-Tim Pujol, 11th season, overall record 85-12, 10 JFL and Kanto titles, five Rising Sun Bowl championships.Base offense-I.Base defense-4-2.Returning players-7.Returning starters-5.Key returning players-DeEric Harvin, Sr., QB-DB; Rainey Daley, Sr., FB-LB; Kevin Eckert, Sr., DE; James Peterson, Sr., C; Ross Matsumoto, Sr., CB; Paul Floyd, Sr., TE-LB; Bradley Forbes, Sr., RB-DE (sat out last season).Key newcomer-Gerald McCloud, Sr., RB-CB.Strengths-Strong offensively up the middle at C, QB and FB, returnees in key positions.Drawbacks-Youth, inexperience, lack of depth, particularly in the lines, where two freshmen will start; that’s not happened on Pujol’s watch.Overview-Always contending. Despite the youth and inexperience, Panthers are still champions until somebody knocks them off and they remain the precision outfit they’ve always been under Pujol. Everything depends on how quickly the lines develop. McCloud must replace departed backs Tony Presnell and Derick Seward.

Robert D. Edgren EaglesMisawa Air Base2008-7-2 overall, .778, 231 points for, 127 points against; 5-1 JFL, 149 points for, 94 points against; second in JFL. Won third straight Class A championship game 35-7 over Osan American on Nov. 1.Coach-Chris Waite, fourth season, overall record 16-9, .640, three Class A titles.Base offense-Pro.Base defense-4-3.Returning players-12.Returning starters-8.Key returning players-Zach Keister, Sr., C; Ja’Maal Dennis, Sr., FB; Trevor Johnson, Jr., OT; Cheston Nurial-Dacalio, Sr., DE-RB; J.J. Freel, Sr., LB; Jon Benavidez, Sr., FS-RB; Zach Davis, Jr., QB; Jeremy Schwartz, Sr., DT.Key newcomers-Sayer Austin, Jr., RT-DE (transfer from Yokota); Xavier Major, Jr., CB; Cody Eaton, So., DT; Nick Moore, So., OT; Gerald Atkinson, Sr., WR; James Ervin, So., CB.Strength-Overall team speed, good size in interior.Drawbacks-Lack of depth, "one injury away from being 1-9," Waite says.Overview-Reloading-contending. Has proven it can contend with the big boys the past few years, finally getting that elusive victory over Yokota. But must now go through Zama American to get to Class A title game again.

Nile C. Kinnick Red DevilsYokosuka Naval Base2008-2-6, .250, 147 points for, 229 points against; 2-4 JFL, .333, 122 points for, 180 points against; 2-4 Kanto Plain, .333, 115 points for, 193 points against; third in JFL, third in Kanto.Coach-Gary Wilson, third season.Base offense-Power.Base defense-3-5-3.Returning players-7.Returning starters-3.Key returning players-Josh Robertson, Sr., L; David de los Santos, Jr., L; Adam Cason, Sr., L; Jonathan Burress, Sr., FS-WR; Taylor Myers, Sr., QB-LB; Chris Santos, Sr., L.Kew newcomers-Elijah Gamble, So., RB-LB; Ryan Wang, Jr., RB-LB; Richard Villareal, So., FB-LB; John Allen, Jr., TE; Anthony Smith, Jr., TE.Strengths-Good size, hard-running backs.Drawbacks-Youth, inexperience on defense.Overview-Rebuilding on defense, reloading on offense. Have to replace Tyree Hunt’s and Donavan Brown’s production, but returning core is up to the task. Question is how quickly the defense gets up to speed.

Zama American TrojansCamp Zama/Atsugi Naval Air Facility2008-0-7 overall, .000, 90 points for, 273 points against; 0-6 JFL, .000, 75 points for, 236 points against; 0-5 Kanto Plain, .000, 77 points for, 199 points against; fourth in JFL, fourth in Kanto Plain.Coach-Steven Merrell, second season, overall record 4-11, .267.Base offense-Wing-T.Base defense-4-3.Returning players-10.Returning starters-10.Key returning players-Ken Schulteis, Sr., OL; Tevin Johnson, Jr., OL-DL; Michael Spencer, Jr., FB-LB; John Iredale, Jr., OL-LB; Malcolm Franklin, Sr., NG.Key newcomers-Ricky Martin, Sr., QB-WR-DB; Austin Wilson, Sr., DL (moveups from junior varsity); Cory Peckins, Jr., HB-DB (transfer from Osan American, South Korea); Ashton Norwood, Sr., HB-DB.Strengths-Many players experienced in Merrell’s system, plenty of seniors and leadership.Drawbacks-Lack of depth.Overview-Contending for Class A title. Trojans hungry after suffering miseries of winless 2008, but an injury or two could derail everything.

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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