First in a series of high school football previews.
After a historic 2010 season in which it finally captured a Guam island title, the question around the Far East gridirons is can Guam High do it again?
That may be a tall order, new coach Jacob Dowdell says. The Panthers saw much of their senior talent base depart after going unbeaten in the 2010 regular season, including a 7-6 win over George Washington in the Bamboo Bowl.
“We have to play it one game at a time,” Dowdell said. “Last year was a special group. We have to have our own identity. The championship is the ultimate goal, but we have to develop chemistry, work on fundamentals and start looking toward the playoffs.”
Only 10 players, five of them starters, return from last year’s group that only had a 34-20 defeat in the team’s final game at Kadena as its lone blemish.
The Panthers must replace the likes of Devon Jacobs, David John Cruz and a core of five senior veterans around whom former coach Billy Henry cobbled together the school’s first Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam island champion team.
But that hardly means the cupboard is bare, Dowdell said. Into the fray steps Sean Sweet, a junior whom Dowdell calls the best quarterback the school’s ever had.
And he fits Dowdell’s style perfectly; as coach of the Yokota Warriors interservice team, he made spread option-style football fashionable on a team noted for its smashmouth style. Sweet will throw to sophomore Matt Eaton, among other targets.
Bookending the defense are a pair of senior veterans, Theatris Eaton and Nijee Smith.
Dowdell describes his group as “quick learners” who are ahead of schedule in terms of development as a team. “They have heart, dedication,” he said.
Where they may be hurting, at least until they get some games under their belt, is depth and experience, Dowdell said.
One thing the Panthers won’t have to worry about is facing the excruciating decision they faced last year – choosing either the DODDS Pacific Far East Division I playoffs or the IIAAG playoffs. They chose a year ago to honor their commitment to the island league.
This season, the Panthers get the best of both worlds.
The IIAAG playoffs begin Oct. 8 and extend to the 22nd; the D-I playoffs begin on Oct. 3 with first-round play-in games, in which Guam High visits the No. 2 team on Okinawa, followed by the semifinals on Oct. 29 and championship on Nov. 12.
“It feels good to not have the kids choose one or the other,” Dowdell said. “We’re really excited about the opportunity this presents us.”