Despite changes, Yokota’s still tops in Japan high school football
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Tim Pujol had seen it all before.
On Friday, his team got thrashed 41-6 in a preseason game by defending Japanese high school football champ Nittai University High School. Minutes later, he recalled how Komatsubara High School similarly thrashed his team 32-6 in late August 2003.
“And we ran the table after that,” the Yokota High School coach recalled. “This is familiar territory for us.”
What will be unfamiliar, as the Panthers enter the 2005 Japan Football League season Friday, is the new contours of the Pacific high school football landscape.
The Rising Sun Bowl, Yokota’s for the past five years, was replaced by a playoff system that encompasses all Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific teams.
Adding Seoul American and Guam High to the Class AA playoff mix adds a step to the mountain the Panthers must climb to claim the grail.
Pujol — whose team is six-time JFL and Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools champions — says he relishes the challenge.
“When you include Seoul and Guam,” he said, “you raise the bar a little bit.”
The new playoff system marks a major step in high school football’s evolution from an entirely regional sport in the 1970s and ‘80s through the six-year Rising Sun Bowl period to today.
But while Yokota has a 48-game winning streak, the Panthers haven’t been this inexperienced in years. “We have a ton of JV moveups, a few returnees and a lot of new faces,” Pujol said.
“First, we have to win the league. You can’t take anything for granted,” he said of a JFL loaded top to bottom with youth and inexperience and lacking the star quality of the past few seasons.
At Yokota, JFL season rushing record-holder Roy Roach and his brother Chris are history. Gone from Nile C. Kinnick are running backs Brenden and Leonard Lynce, Adam Krievs and Jarvis Williams. Zama loses dangerous three-way star Donovan Nance; Edgren bids farewell to triple-threat Woody Carter.
But the lack of superstars might not be a bad thing, suggests senior fullback-linebacker Mark Dixon, saying, “It’s more of a team this year.”
Should Yokota reach the semifinals, Pujol would face a familiar foe in Seoul American’s Julian Harden.
They coached against each other in the 1990s. And since 2001, the Falcons have won 24 straight games, second only to Yokota’s record streak.
“Julian’s a great coach,” Pujol said. “Whoever faces Seoul is in for a real test.”
The winner of that game might end up traveling to Okinawa, which has abandoned its old split-squad championship format, with the Kadena Panthers and Kubasaki Dragons taking the field for the playoffs.
Edgren, the only Class A school in Japan, gets a free pass into the small school championship Nov. 5, at either Osan or Taegu.
“That’s a carrot in front of a small school,” Pujol said.
Historically, schools with legitimate title chances tend to attract more players.
“I welcome this,” said Edgren coach Jim Burgeson.
Japan football team capsulesYokota PanthersYokota Air Base, Japan
2004 record: 9-0 overall; 6-0 Japan Football League; won sixth straight JFL and Kanto Plain championships, won fifth straight Rising Sun Bowl.
Coach: Tim Pujol, seventh season, overall record 55-6.
Base offense: I, wishbone.
Base defense: 5-man front.
Returning players: Three.
Key returnees: Mark Dixon, Sr., FB-OG-LB; Garret McCaw, Sr., DT-OL; Stefan Welch, Jr., PK-P.
Key newcomers: Doug Bloom, Sr., QB; Scott Monahan, Sr., RB-DB-KR; Tom Gass, Jr., QB; Jim Scott, Sr., OL-DL; Kyle Shimabukuro, Jr., L; Jacob Riddle, Sr., L; Reuben Pittman, Sr., L; Patrick Pamintuan, So., SS; Andreas Cabral, Sr., TE; Corey Sykes, Sr., G.
Strengths: Most of the Panthers’ 26-man varsity roster are coming up from the junior varsity, which went unbeaten a year ago. Moving Dixon to fullback could pay dividends. Monahan’s a speed burner. Bloom possesses good arm and smarts. Good size in interior, hard hitters all around.
Weaknesses: Pujol has a young team devoid of superstar talent. It might take a few games for all the pieces to mesh.
Overview: Reloading-contending. Expect Yokota to win by two touchdowns instead of four, at least in the early going.
Kinnick Red DevilsYokosuka Naval Base, Japan
2004 record: 6-2 overall; 4-2, second in JFL.
Coach: Bill Schofield, first season; coached junior varsity past four years.
Base offense: One-back, two-tight end set.
Base defense: Multiple 4-4 and 5-2.
Returning players: Six.
Key returnees: Yamato Cibulka, Sr., RB-LB; Robert Barton, Sr., TE; Richard Lute, Jr., L; Jonathan Santos, Jr., WR.
Strengths: Cibulka (5-foot-5, 170 pounds) is small, but he hits hard and is highly motivated. Schofield coached many players on the JV; they know his system.
Weaknesses: Lack of experience at most positions. No players of superstar quality along the lines of departed seniors Leonard Lynce, Adam Krievs, David McDermott and Jarvis Williams. Again, small in the line. Entirely new coaching staff.
Overview: Rebuilding. Schofield plans to install his own system, scrapping the one used by predecessor Robert Stovall.
Zama American TrojansCamp Zama-Atsugi Naval Air Facility, Japan
2004 record: 3-5 overall; 1-5, third in JFL.
Coach: Victor Rivera, first season.
Base offense: Multiple wishbone, pro and I.
Base defense: Multiple 6-3, 4-3, 5-3.
Returning players: 15.
Key players: Ben Bishop, Jr., QB (transfers from American School In Japan); Carlos Walters, So., DE-QB-K; Quincy Howard, Jr., RB; Quenton Howard, Jr., RB; Steve Moore, Sr., RB-DB; Wilberto Badillo, So., S-WR-special teams; Michael Kim, Jr., TE-DE; Aaron Tabor, Jr., RB-L-K.
Strengths: Experienced coaching staff and good core of returning athletes. Bishop, who started several games at ASIJ last year, possesses “exceptional attitude,” a good arm and “knows quarterbacking,” Rivera says.
Weaknesses: Sixth head coach and staff since 1995 season. Young, inexperienced and lacking size at most positions.
Overview: Rebuilding. The hope is that a return to old-school values — including a dress code for road trips — and respect will flush out the negativity that has plagued previous teams.
Edgren EaglesMisawa Air Base, Japan
2004 record: 2-6 overall; 1-5, third in JFL.
Coach: Jim Burgeson, third season, overall record 2-13.
Base offense: Multiple pro, I.
Base defense: 4-4.
Returning players: Seven.
Key returnees: Darren Hall, So., TE-OLB; Josh Ray, So., QB; Patrick Pezoulas, Sr., K; Victor Lee, Jr., RB-WR-FS.
Key newcomers: David Leh, Jr., FB-MLB (transfer from Osan American); Jacob Mullinax, Sr., L.
Strengths: Continuity in head coaching, strong assistants. Work ethic, dedication, realization that there’s no “offseason;” many players spent time conditioning during the summer. Solid, if small, core of experienced veterans infused by two talented newcomers.
Weaknesses: Young and inexperienced throughout the roster. Will sorely miss all-around athlete Woody Carter, who transferred. No player of apparent superstars.
Overview: Rebuilding-reloading. With the chance to play for a DODDS-Pacific Class A title and with Burgeson slowly building his system, this season or next might be the first since 1999 that the Eagles emerge with a winning record.
American School In Japan MustangsTokyo
2004 record: 1-7 overall; 0-6, last in Kanto Plain.
Coaches: No head coach. John Seevers and John Hohenthaner coach defense, Bill Jacobsson and Andy Dulac coach offense.
Base offense: Multiple.
Base defense: 5-2.
Key returnees: Shawn Seevers, So., QB; Tim Jacobsson, Sr., L.
Strengths: Solid at two key positions. Jacobsson will be the storm anchor in the line; Seevers started games for parts of two seasons.
Weaknesses: Inexperience and lack of size.
Overview: Rebuilding. One bright spot is the Mustangs have more than 60 players trying out. That means they’ll be able to field a junior varsity team for the first time since 2003. But the team mostly is young and inexperienced.
2005 Japan football schedule
Friday, Sept. 2
Zama American at Yokota, 7 p.m.
Kinnick at Edgren, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 9
American School In Japan at Kinnick, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 10
Edgren at Zama American, 1 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 16
Kinnick at Yokota, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 17
Zama American at American School In Japan, 1 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 23
Zama American at Kinnick, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 24
American School In Japan at Edgren, 1 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 30
Yokota at Edgren, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 1
Kinnick at American School In Japan, 1 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 7
Edgren at Kinnick, 7 p.m.
Yokota at Zama American, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 14
Kinnick at Zama American, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 15
Yokota at American School In Japan, 1 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 21
American School In Japan at Zama American, 7 p.m.
Edgren at Yokota, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 28
Yokota at Kinnick, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 29
Zama American at Edgren, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 5
Class AA semifinal; Japan Football League champion at Seoul American, 1 p.m.
Class A championship; Edgren at Taegu American or Osan American, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 12
Class AA championship; teams, time and site to be determined.