Osan American football players go through a warm-up jog during the team’s strength and conditioning workout Friday at Osan Air Base, South Korea.

Osan American football players go through a warm-up jog during the team’s strength and conditioning workout Friday at Osan Air Base, South Korea. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — A conga line of freshman, sophomore and junior boys in gray gym shorts and T-shirts made their way around a grassy knoll behind Osan American High School, under coaches’ watchful eyes.

Their demeanor remained calm. Yet each exuded the focus of someone who remembered his school accomplishing something special last fall — and wanting to prepare to do it again.

The Cougars are the defending Far East Class A football champions. And coach Tony Alvarado isn’t content to settle for beating his small-school foe, Taegu American, during the regular season and a possible rematch against Robert D. Edgren in the Class A title clash, which Osan won 16-14 on Nov.5.

“We don’t want to be happy with just that one,” Alvarado said. Many freshmen from that team, including running back Will Rapoza and lineman Cody Morris, will be sophomores this fall. “Their mind-set is three years in a row.”

Alvarado said he wants for the first time to beat Seoul American all three times they play next fall. “The goal is to be perfect.”

So he’s gathered his troops the past few weeks at a hilly, grassy patch behind the school’s tennis courts. There, he and his coaches put the players through rigorous conditioning. He has more numbers this year than in past — 26 players were at Friday’s workouts — but said, “Every year, we try to increase our conditioning.

“Where it shows is in the second half of games. And it definitely shows. Instead of worrying that they’re tired, their arms hurt and whether they can make a play, it should be how we can take advantage of another team’s fatigue.”

Such is the case at almost every other Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific high school. Some workouts are official, with coaching staffs educating players on offenses, defenses, fundamentals, strength and conditioning. Others are unofficial; captains run workouts and coaches observe from a distance.

And with Far East Class AA and Class A championships at stake, there’s more of a sense of urgency to prepare for the fall.

“We’ve been waiting all winter and spring for this,” coach Fred Bales of defending Class AA champion Kubasaki said during the first week of spring workouts on Okinawa. He said he’s certain some of the other teams and coaches “are excited to get at us.”

Some 60 players showed up for Kubasaki’s two-week spring program; an average of 25 for Osan.

Alvarado said he believes his current group holds a distinct advantage over last year, when “we were teaching so many fundamentals. This year, we have so many coming back … we can take the next step up.”

Being Class A champions is a double-edged sword for the Cougars, he said. “Last year’s game, the spirit and the support brought some excitement” to the school and has increased student interest. “They want to experience what those kids experienced.”

But it also created something of a rivalry with Edgren, which is to host the Class A championship on Nov. 4. “They’re going to come with some fire,” he said. “We’ll see how it comes out next year.”

Four Osan seniors return, along with freshmen and sophomores who saw “significant playing time.”

But Bales must replace athletes such as transfer David Motu and graduates Steven Thompson and Steven Ellis. Said Bales: “We hope to have new faces off the plane come August.”

He and his coaching staff of Jon Fick, Butch Spain and Jeremy Walker put the Dragons players through similarly rigorous workouts — a “beginning process,” Bales said. “We have to do the same thing we do every year: Take the guys who show up, build a coaching staff and get after it.”

Like Alvarado but on a much larger scale, with seven DODDS-Pacific schools shooting for a Class AA crown, Bales said he welcomes the notion that the playoffs will give Pacific football a new edge. “Until then, we still have to work,” he said. “But we discovered there are some good, steady programs out there. That can only make us better.”

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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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