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Fifth in a series of high school football previews.

As soon as the sting subsided from Guam High’s 21-20 Interscholastic Football League semifinal loss to George Washington last Oct. 20, Panthers coach Jacob Dowdell began looking ahead to 2013 - and with unbridled optimism.

He knew he’d have 26 players, 22 of them seniors, back from the team that settled for third place (33-6 over Okkodo). A team thought to be rebuilding instead went 8-1.

And Dowdell says a third trip to the IFL’s Bamboo Bowl in four years, and perhaps Guam’s second IFL title, is definitely within reach.

“This is an exciting time for us,” Dowdell said. “We have probably the most well-rounded group of players we’ve had in a long time. A lot of mature players.”

Far removed from the days when the Panthers played piñata to the rest of the league, Guam is now the team that opponents circle on the calendar to begin the season, Dowdell said, adding that coaching continuity and community support have been two of the biggest reasons.

“We’ve been able to develop a program here,” he said. “That’s been a cornerstone. That’s why we’ve been able to year after year build a winning program.”

At the base of the program this season will be reigning IFL co-MVP L.J. Aguon, a senior quarterback, and senior Tegan Brown, who’ll see action at a variety of spots, most notably in a young backfield, Dowdell said.

With the backfield so young, Dowdell says he’s planning to field a more balanced offense, more passes going to the likes of seniors Austy Hines and Juwon Jacobs and junior newcomers Tyler Wilson and Lewis Harris. Bookending the defense are senior ends Austin Cantrell and Cody Burpo.

While the IFL title is an attainable goal, winning a Far East Division I title will not be for the second straight year.

The last season Guam was eligible, in 2011, differences between DODDS’ and the IFL’s schedules caused conflicts and affected other DODDS teams’ schedules. That led DODDS and Guam to conclude that honoring the latter’s IFL commitment was the best way.

DODDS last season did fund Guam for a single game against a Division I foe, which the Panthers won 28-12 last September at Kubasaki. No such game is scheduled this season.

“We’d like the opportunity” to play for the D-I title, Dowdell said, adding, however, that the Panthers “understand the decision had to be made and we’ll live with it.”

“We’re left to wonder ‘what if,’ especially for our seniors, to prove we’re more than capable not just of competing, but winning. We’ve reluctantly accepted it, moved on and we’ll go from here.”

That attitude, Dowdell said, is emblematic of the team’s work ethic. “This group of young men has faith. They strap up and go get it in the face of adversity. They put on their hard hats and grind it out.”

Guam High opens the season with a victory without even stepping on the field, taking a forfeit win over Simon Sanchez in a game scheduled for Saturday.

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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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