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Belgian-based team in fine SHAPE to begin season

By GREGORY BROOME | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 7, 2018

Fifteenth in a series of looks at high school football camps around Europe.

The SHAPE Spartans have had their moments in recent seasons, including an impressive 23-21 defeat of eventual finalist Rota in last year’s regular-season finale.

But the Spartans haven’t made a serious Division II football title run since 2013, when they took a heartbreaking 38-35 loss to Hohenfels in an epic European championship game.

This might be the year SHAPE returns to the ranks of the divisional elite.

Head coach James Cerf has an imposing group of 30 athletes lined up as the 2018 season begins, among the healthier rosters in Division II in terms of pure numbers.

And the squad includes promising combinations of players on either side of the ball.

Offensively, Cerf said the Spartans are “vastly improved at quarterback” with junior Matthew Owen under center. He’ll have a handful of solid receivers with which to construct a passing game, with junior running back Oliver Cory joining him in the backfield to balance the attack.

Defensively, Cerf sees potential for a playmaking unit that wreaks havoc on opposing offenses.

“We are hoping to be faster off the ball and better reading the play as it develops,” Cerf said.

Though it has a little more cushion on its roster than many of its Division II peers, the Spartans are vulnerable to the same depth issues that apply to every sub-Division I school, and perhaps DODEA-Europe’s largest programs as well.  A key injury or absence could scuttle the optimisic plans of Cerf and the Spartans.

This year’s Division II schedule and playoff structure poses further difficulties. The Spartans make the long trip to Italy twice in the season’s first three weeks, including a Saturday visit to Naples. They’ll have to face Spangdahlem and Rota, the 2017 champion and runner-up, respectively, on the road. And they’ll need to win consistently to emerge as one of the two teams that will advance directly to the European title game in a season without a quarterfinal or semifinal round.

A lot needs to go right for the Spartans to succeed. But with experienced coaching and a talented roster, that might be just what happens for SHAPE this season.

broome.gregory@stripes.com

Twitter: @broomestripes

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