A lot of rebuilding for Korea football
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — After capturing last year’s Far East Class AA football title, Seoul American appears to be starting over.
Gone are all but seven starters from the team that edged Kadena 12-6 in overtime. Among the departed is David Smalls, he of the Pacific-leading 20 touchdowns and 1,465 yards, including a Pacific single-game record 421 yards.
Thus, fifth-year coach Julian Harden says he’s averting his eyes from end-of-year accolades, isn’t thinking about his Falcons’ chances at another DODDS-Korea title or repeating the Class AA championship.
“We have talked to the guys about not having any preconceived notions of us blowing anybody out,” Harden said. “We’re taking things one step at a time. Focus on the little things. We’re not worrying about winning or about a league title, not focusing on Far East. We’re just taking things one at at time. One quarter at a time. Not getting cocky. Stay healthy and learn from our mistakes.”
That would seem fair, since only four senior starters return, including quarterback Daniel Burns, plus four juniors, among them Class AA championship game hero Joe McLean. He caught the game-winning TD pass and recovered the title-clinching fumble.
Transfer transports offloaded some size into Falcon Nation over the summer, but the lineup sports precious little speed and quickness.
Ronald Penn, a senior transfer from Taegu American, inherits Smalls’ featured back job.
“Those are some big shoes to fill,” Harden said.
What does please Harden is the coachability of his young charges.
“They’re listening, they’re receptive. They’re being the proverbial sponges right now,” he said.
The bottom line, Harden said, is building toward the future.
“We’re trying to get through this season and gear up to do well next season,” he said.
Another team facing major rebuilding pains is 2005 Class A champion Osan American, which lost four-year starter Carlos Albaladejo. and a number of sons of civilian contractors whom coach Tony Alvarado had expected to stay.
“We’re hurting,” Alvarado said of a squad that began summer workouts with just 18 players, the fewest under Alvarado.
That may open the door for a school-first Class A championship appearance by Taegu American; Korea is slated to host the title game on Nov. 3.
While Taegu American is not deep, first-year coach Ken Walter sports enough skills-positions stars, including multiple threat Angel Hickman, to make the Warriors a strong probability to welcome Edgren of Japan to Taegu in November.
“They’re big, quick and aggressive,” Alvarado said of the Warriors.
While not a storied program, with no victories in the four years since DODDS-Korea began sponsoring football, “I believe we will show that we can be competitive with the other teams in our league,” Walter said. “We have a lot of very good kids who are working hard to learn the game.”
One thing that is new is the type of turf on which four of the league’s regular-season games will be contested.
Falcon Field at Yongsan’s South Post now boasts synthetic Field Turf, at a cost of $760,000 bought and paid for by U.S. Forces Korea.
“The community has always been there for us,” Harden said, crediting USFK commanding officer Gen. B.B. Bell for getting the Field Turf. “He saw that as a need and came in and helped us get it.”