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Three divisions, two tiers and few returning all-stars highlight the changing landscape as DODDS-Europe’s 24 football-playing schools officially kick off their seasons on Saturday.

DODDS said farewell to Division IV, which consisted of the system’s smallest schools, and renamed it Division III for football. All five of the new D-III schools played D-IV last season and will again play nine-man ball.

Most of last season’s Division II and III schools merged into the new D-II, with 2008 D-II runner-up Wiesbaden returning to D-I for the upcoming campaign.

The change means that high school football’s annual title-game festival in Baumholder, scheduled this season for Nov. 7, reverts to a tripleheader from the far-into-the-night quadrupleheader it had been the past couple of seasons.

The two-tier system is simple. It divides teams into two groups, winners and losers. Under a plan awaiting final approval, they’ll be used in Divisions I and II to determine who makes and hosts playoff games.

Under the plan, victories against top-tier teams, those with winning records, earn 50 points in the standings for the winner; those against teams with losing records earn 45.

"It’s an attempt to make sure the best teams get into the playoffs," Baumholder’s Carter Hollenbeck said last week. "The conference champions (there are four of them in Hollenbeck’s Division II) make the playoffs, but the runners-up don’t make the playoffs automatically. The points will determine who else goes."

In D-II, the points also decide who gets home-field games in the playoffs. The top four points-getters will host the quarterfinals, scheduled for Oct. 24.

The top-tier, lower-tier distinctions could make for some shifting sands during the season. Coaches won’t be certain of their points until season’s end, so all games — not just conference ones — are infused with importance.

Unlike previous seasons, D-I and D-II teams won’t play schools outside their divisions, except for exhibitions against local national teams. Tier points, therefore, are on the line every time out.

"Every game counts," said Ansbach’s Marcus George, whose Cougars are chasing a third straight European crown.

The same format will apply to the seven teams in Division I. The two conference winners plus the two non-champion teams with the highest totals reach the semifinals on Oct. 31.

Points are no problem in D-III, where the No. 1 team hosts No. 4 and No. 2 entertains No. 3 in the Oct. 31 semifinals.

By the time playoffs roll around, plenty of new stars should have emerged to rub shoulders with the six players, all seniors, who are returning from last year’s 48-player All-Europe team.

Four of those players return to defending champions. Tim Abel, Carter Gunn and two-way selectee Dominic Barrale will be attempting to extend Ansbach’s 24-game winning streak, and Aaron Black will be back for D-III champion AFNORTH, which is riding an eight-game streak and will play in Division II this season.

Vilseck All-Europe quarterback Tyler Hall also returns, along with his teammate and passing target, wide receiver Jamal Grant, to round out the all-star half-dozen.

Saturday’s opening kickoffs are scheduled for 1 p.m.

E-mail Rusty Bryan at:bryanr@estripes.osd.mil.

Division I team capsulesTeam-by-team glance at each team, with assessments provided by Ansbach head coach Marcus George (last year’s record in parentheses):

Heidelberg (6-2, European champs)Coach — Brad Shahan.Key returnees — QB Jimmy Montfluery, RB Napolian Myhand, RB Josh Walker, WR-DB Jacobi Satsatin, FB-LB Thomas Hogue, OL-DL Ramon Rosario."Heidelberg is athletic, fast and talented. … The Lions are a little short by their normal standards on the O-line, but speed and a top QB makes them dangerous. They are a favorite choice to repeat."

Kaiserslautern (4-3)Coach — Tom Burriss.Key returnees — OL-DL Patricio Escobar, QB Josh Fry, QB Matteo Gazzale, WR-DB Jamil McGinnis."… has some big folks back on the line. Power football has always been the rule in D-I. K-town has the kids to play power football, but Burriss has been known to spread them out."

Lakenheath (2-3)Coach — Matt Martinez.Key returnees — QB Alex Federinko, RB Emmanuel Toots.Newcomer to watch — Grant Golombeski."Lakenheath is a dark horse. Martinez has done a good job of … building his program."

Patch (0-6)Coach — Brian Hill.Key returnee — OL Jason Pinnow.Newcomer to watch — Mike Niccoll."Patch … will have to adjust to the late arrival of new coach Hill. Hill has a great pedigree and will have his house in order, soon. He already has dramatically increased numbers in his program."

Ramstein (5-3)Coach — Carlos Amponin.Key returnees — QB Michael Wallace, OLB James Muncy, MLB P.J. Sullivan, WR/CB Aaron Salcido."Rebuilding (after loss of 11 of top 12 linemen from ’08)… Amponin is toying with the spread attack with Wallace at QB. This offense is not for most teams, but anyone with an athlete like Wallace can venture into it."

Vilseck (4-2)Coach — Jim Hall.Key returnees — QB Tyler Hall, WR Jamal Grant, WB Angleo Anderson, SS Imogin Roque, DT Kalyn Smithson, CBs Xavier Scott and Jamil Marion, RB Rayshan Clark, FB Daren Martin.Newcomer to watch — TE-WR Mike Johnson."…always dangerous. … Hall and Sam Cassou have an All-Europe QB and some good athleticism. They are short on true OL players."

Wiesbaden (7-1)Coach — Steve Jewell.Key returnees — K-CB Matt Wickham, OL-LB Richard Nelson, QB Ryan Reagin, RB Jake Crawford, WB-CB Tyrece Davis."Jewell has had some nice move-ins (Daniel Harris, Kyle Higgins, Daniel Weber) and returned some good athletes for D-II semifinalist team of 2008."

Division II team capsulesTeam-by-team glance at Division II, with assessments provided by Ansbach head coach Marcus George (last year’s record in parentheses):

Ansbach Cougars (8-0; D-II champion)Coach — Marcus George.Key returnees — QB Dominic Barrale, TE-PK Carter Gunn, DE-Tim Abel, RB-QB Alex Moya, OL Daniel Brooking, Kevin Hemker, Dan Mariscal, Eddie Matheson, T.J. Propp.Newcomers to watch — RBs Johnny Bunch, Demar Flake, Dwayne Jones, QB Mikeal Vicente, OL Eric Esstertaise, Matt Jones, Shelby Herring, Ed Parowski."Ansbach has a rebuilding year as 30 of 44 lettermen graduated" or moved from team that won third straight European title in 2008.

AFNORTH Lions (8-0; D-III champion)Coach — Greg Blankenship.Key returnees — OL-DE Aaron Black, FB-LB Kevin Kropp, RB-CB Tizhuan Carroll, C-DT Miccotto Johnson"Undersized in numbers, but not in bodies. Blankenship has a strong program – one loss in last two years."

Aviano Saints (1-5)Coach — Richard Dahlstrom.Key returnees — None."PCS of several top athletes makes it tough to predict talent level. (Boys) volleyball program always robs some of the top athletes, something Germany does not have to worry about."

Bamberg Barons (1-5)Coach — Jim Davis.Key returnees — (Positions unavailable) Cortez Lindsey, Forte Cunningham, D.J. Cunningham, Demetrius Lindsey, Jon Reid"Big linemen, some nice skill kids. Davis does good job with his talent."

Baumholder Bucs (5-3)Coach — Carter Hollenbeck.Key returnees — RB Prince Owusu, RB Cody Clay, RB Tyler Collins, L Sean Ledbetter, L Thomas Rodgers"Speed and athleticism abound, but PCS and graduation has taken several stars (WR Fred Styles, LB Bryan Boatner) from D-3 runner-up."

Naples Wildcats (3-4)Coach — Dirk Lambertson.Key returnees (positions unavailable) — Danny Brew, Logan Porchie, Patrick McCarthy, Tommaso Mastroianini, Sterling Sheppard, Sam Person, Brennan Goodnature, Eric Martin, Jon Bruce, Richard Burrell.Newcomers to watch — Sam LeVault, Eric Ratcliff, Kyle Zick."New coach, always a tough team. Playing in the Naples heat has always challenged Germany teams."

Bitburg Barons (5-2)Coach — Mike Laue.Key returnees — QB Matt Less, OL-DL Coleton Fair, WR-DB Cameron Jackson, OL-LB Kirk Miller, OL-DL Robert Shimmel, OL-DL Pat WilliamsNewcomer to watch — PK Brandon Massie"Laue returns many players and should challenge for title. Large OL players and physical style of play make Barons dangerous. QB Less is a good one."

Hohenfels Tigers (0-5)Coach — Ed Lynch.Key returnees (some positions unavailable) — FB-LB Bryce Cooper, Josh Cooper, Tim Salerno.Newcomer to watch — Florian Davis."Talent level is a bit better than last year, but this traditionally strong program is down from previous levels."

International School of Brussels Raiders (2-4)Coach — Will Vreugdenhil.Key returnees (positions unavailable) — Gino Culotta, Fernando Moncado-Rivera, Brennan Edwards, Ben Hausdorff, Scott Larson.Newcomers to watch — Stephen Clark, Michael Taylor"ISB returns two top backs and some large linemen. Always tough … ISB plays fall soccer, so many candidates are unavailable."

Mannheim Bison (2-4)Coach — Frank Macias.Key returnees — QB Nathan Nichols, RB Trevin Hampton, WR-LB Dennis Majewski, OL-DL Andrew Frederickson, OL-DL Julius Phillips, WR-DB Thomas Carter, OL-LB Sean Knight, QB-DB Jacob Lankford.Newcomers to watch — WR Kenyatta Hill, WR-LB Calvin Baisden"Macias has the most top players returning. If they can find a quarterback, they may be the favorite this year — top-notch receivers."

SHAPE Spartans (3-3)Coach — Jay Bodine.Key returnees — QB Michael Goff, WR Kewin Nielsen, LB Christian Walker."Many losses, rebuilding, but one of the larger schools in D-II. Always dangerous."

Vicenza Cougars (4-3)Coach — Adam Ridgley.Key returnees (positions unavailable) — Kola Awe, Zach Bishop, Jack Buffington, Gary Donald, Kyle Kaus, Sam Pemberton, Gabriel Rosario, Alex Steger, Bobby Unger, Shakael Skeete.Newcomer to watch — WR Ben Grice.Vicenza "could be a dark horse, returning some nice senior and junior lettermen. Early tests against Bamberg and Baumholder will show how good they will be."

Division III capsules(Nine-man football)Team-by-team glance at Division III, with assessments provided by Ansbach head coach Marcus George (last year’s record in parentheses):

Rota Admirals (6-1, D-IV champions)Coach — Robert Stovall.Key returnees — QB-DB Alex Kase, WR-DBs Nate Kase and Caleb Arnold, OL-DLs Justin Vetinghoff, Tim Drake and James Chalmers, TE-DEs James Stovall, Marcos Wolfe, FB-LB Nick Hernandez, TE-DL Gareth Rust.Newcomers to watch (positions unavailable) — Gannon Soaresm Terrence Paris, Frankie Esquival, Austin Hall"Stovall has a good turnout (more than 25players), so Rota stands a good chance of repeating."

Menwith Hill Mustangs (3-3)Coach — Pete Resnick.Key returnees — QB-LB Scottie Setzer, WB-DE Andrew Breeding, RB-CB Jeremy Smith, RB-FS Christopher Jackson.Newcomers to watch — Rick Rachal, Schuyler Backlar."Resnick returns a talented team, but school population limits them."

Alconbury Dragons (4-3)Coach — Jeffrey Black.Key returnees — RB Devin Pryor, SE Greg Pettiway, FB Kerry Kuheana, TB Austin Hill, OL Tyrell Goosby."Good kids back, but had significant losses."

Brussels Brigands (0-6)Coach — Joe Fiedler.Key returnees — RB Marc Proietto, OL-DL Joe Kren, FB Tahir Mahmudov, QB Sam Bigelow"Struggling to have enough to play." (Fiedler reported 19 out on Wednesday.)

Sigonella Jaguars (1-5)Coach — Walt Sumerfield.Key returnees (positions unavailable) — Andrew Barclay, James Campbell, Ryan Lastrella, Jeff Lastrella, Brett Gilbert, Julian Lopez, Marco Summerfield, Franco Garcia, Greg Nichols Angel Jackson, Marco Montero.Newcomer to watch — Tyler Andrews."Sigonella returns a solid group of athletes (25-plus players) and will be well-armed to compete in D-III."

Divisional lineups

(High school enrollment figures as of Aug. 28 in parentheses)

Division I North — Kaiserslautern (584), Lakenheath (545), Ramstein (999)Division I South — Heidelberg (613), Patch (647), Vilseck (511), Wiesbaden (412)Division II North — AFNORTH (171), International School of Brussels (unavailable), SHAPE (341)Division II-South — Aviano (303), Naples (344), Vicenza (221)Division II East — Ansbach (230), Bamberg (355), Hohenfels (186)Division II West — Baumholder (200), Bitburg (298), Mannheim (252)Division III (nine-man) — Alconbury (138), Brussels (89), Menwith Hill (68), Rota (118), Sigonella (138)

Opening week schedule

(x-non-division vs. local national team)

SaturdayDivision I — Ramstein at Heidelberg; Patch at Kaiserslautern; Lakenheath at Wiesbaden; x-Biene Jets at VilseckDivision II — AFNORTH at Mannheim; Naples at International School of Brussels; SHAPE at Bamberg; Bitburg at Ansbach; Baumholder at Vicenza; Hohenfels at AvianoDivision III — Menwith Hill at Rota; Sigonella at Alconbury; Menwith Hill at Rota

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