Guam High’s football program faces inevitable difficulties as it enters its eighth season.

The Panthers have won only 11 of 44 games, posted one winning season (4-3 in 2003) and have been outscored by an average of 32-10. That’s mainly the result of an annual roster overhaul, a way of life for a Defense Department school, competing against indigenous island squads that keep their players for four years.

The good news this year?

No matter whether Guam High wins its first island championship or finishes in last place, the Panthers do have a second title to play for — the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific’s first Far East championship.

“Just to have that opportunity and to be put in that position is something we’re really looking forward to having the chance to do,” coach Tom Hildreth said.

As the lone Domestic DODDS program on the island, Guam High automatically qualifies for the Class AA playoffs and will host a semifinal game against the Okinawa Activities Council champion on Nov. 5.

That’s a long way down the road for Hildreth, who coached in Iowa for 28 years but enters his second season at the helm of a team that went 2-5 a year ago.

He has a team to build after losing stars to graduation and transfers, and his first two games are against the top teams on the island.

“All we’re looking at is Father Duenas. We have talked about [the Pacific playoff], but we aren’t focused in on anything but what’s in front of us now,” said Hildreth, who opens the season Friday night against league runner-up Father Duenas Memorial at Andersen Air Force Base. The following week brings a road battle at two-time defending island champion George Washington.

Hildreth has 11 players, including six starters, back from last season. The list includes tight end Chris Hoyle and fullback-linebacker Tommy Strahan, both juniors, along with a handful of stateside transfers whom he calls the “real deal.”

Sophomore Cameron Yecke steps in under center and in front of tailback Ashton Adams. Providing pass protection and paving running lanes will be senior Phillip Thompson and junior Rony Harden.

“We don’t have the size that we did last year, but we have more speed, thank goodness, and can at least halfway keep up with the island teams,” Hildreth said.

Having Friday night games at Andersen and Naval Station should help.

“Not only because Friday night’s a great night to play, but for safety reasons,” he said. “Those 3 p.m. and 10 a.m. games are just killers. Some of our kids aren’t used to the heat.”

Hildreth isn’t making promises he feels his team can’t keep.

“We’re a better team than last year,” he said. “I think we can surprise some people. If we come up with a respectable showing, I’ll be happy.”

Guam High Panthers

Nimitz Hill, Guam

2004 record: 2-5, Lost 13-6 to John F. Kennedy in first round of IIAAG playoffs.

Coach: Tom Hildreth, second season, overall record 2-5.

Base offense: Multiple Wing-T, I, pro.

Base defense: Multiple 5-3, 4-4.

Returning players: 11.

Returning starters: 6.

Key returning players: Josh Carpenter, So., LB; Caleb Thomas, So., C; Tommy Strahan, Jr., FB-LB; Chris Hoyle, Jr., TE; Justin Hughes, Jr., WR-LB.

Key newcomers: Phillip Thompson, Sr., L; Rony Harden, Jr., L; Ashton Adams, Jr., RB; Cameron Yecke, So., QB.

Strengths: Coaching continuity. Better overall team speed. Good core of returning veterans will blend with stateside talents Yecke and Adams. Addition of Thompson and Harden in interior. Adams, Thompson and Harden are the “real deal,” Hildreth says.

Weaknesses: Not much size in interior. Usual difficulty of maintaining continuity against indigenous Guam schools who typically keep players for four seasons. Opening with Father Duenas and George Washington, island’s top two teams past two seasons, could lead to another 0-2 start.

Overview: Rebuilding-reloading. Could be as good or better than team that went 4-3 and won a playoff game in 2003. The biggest issue will be getting new talent and veterans to gel. If the Panthers can somehow win one of their first two games, it could lead to most the successful football season in school history. If not, another uphill battle might await.

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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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