After long climb, can Rota now stay on top?
By GREGORY BROOME | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 2, 2017
Sixth in a series of DODEA-Europe high school football previews.
Rota completed its steady ascent to the top of DODEA-Europe Division II football last season. But the Admirals appear to still be picking up momentum.
Head coach Ken Walter said he is “stoked” to welcome former colleague Luke Spencer to the Admirals staff this year. Walter and Spencer teamed up previously in the Pacific, leading Daegu to five championships in six seasons, and are hopeful they’re in the early stages of a similar run through Europe.
The defending champions’ road to a repeat also got a little less challenging this fall, albeit for a regrettable reason. Ansbach, the program that beat Rota for the 2015 title and was waiting again when the Admirals reached the 2016 title game, finally succumbed to its dwindling population figures and will not field a team in 2017. That removes Rota’s primary rival from its championship equation.
But the Admirals aren’t expecting entirely smooth sailing. Rota returns just a handful of starters - four on offense and three on defense, to be exact - from last year’s group. That includes just two incumbents at key skill positions in quarterback Sam Gallardo and wide receiver Austin Curtice, leaving a lot of offensive production to be accounted for by fresh starters. An experienced line led by senior Andy Drake should help in that regard.
Young or not, Rota isn’t entertaining the idea of a step backwards, especially after finally completing its irresistible years-long climb from winless afterthought to European champion.
“We do not have a rebuilding mindset,” Walter said. “We believe this team can compete for a championship and expect to have another great season.”
The Admirals will see where they stand quickly as they take on two 2016 semifinalists in the season’s first three weeks. Naples visits for the season opener Sept. 9, while Rota makes the long trek to Spangdahlem (formerly Bitburg) on Sept. 23.