Usually, life isn’t crowded at the top of the Guam high school football scene. One, two or perhaps three teams chase the regular-season and overall island championships, with the rest of the league looking up.

With the exception of first-year Tiyan, this season it appears as if the other seven teams in the Interscholastic Football League have at least a reasonable shot, at least in the eyes of fifth-year Guam High coach Jacob Dowdell.

“It’s anybody’s championship to win this year,” Dowdell said Monday, five days before the Panthers open their season at home against Tiyan; kickoff is at 7 p.m.

Especially, Dowdell said, with reigning island champion George Washington losing a large number of its seniors from 2014, and having to give up some of its players to Tiyan, a close neighbor of GW.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how Tiyan drawing from GW will affect them,” Dowdell said. “We’re excited to be the first team to welcome Tiyan into the league. We always want to win, but we’re happy they’re in the league. There’s definitely a lot of parity in the league this year.”

The Panthers, for their part, are hoping to rebound from an 0-7 2014 campaign – the first winless season in school history. Their 20-13 loss to John F. Kennedy in the first round of the playoffs was Guam’s earliest exit from the IFL postseason since 2005.

Guam will field only eight returners, including four starters, from 2014, but Dowdell said the speed and experience the team has on defense provides reason for optimism.

Jontue Lee, late of Southern High’s coaching staff, joins the Guam staff and brings “toughness to the defense that we’ve been missing,” Dowdell said. Lee is being groomed to take over for defensive coordinator Scottie Boyd, in his last season on island, Dowdell said.

“He’s a student of the game and we’re very excited to have (him) with us,” Dowdell said of Lee, a veteran of the adult Miller Football League wars.

The defense is “clicking like forever,” Dowdell said of a unit featuring bookend defensive ends Makoa Bamba and Donovan Johnson along with 305-pound freshman Ronald Luma and fleet secondary players T.J. Aguon and Trip Chauret. Bamba will be a “force to be reckoned with on Guam,” Dowdell said.

Offensively, the Panthers remain young following their rebuilding 2014 season. But they welcome back junior running back Avery Fernandez, who missed last season with a leg injury, a 180-pounder “who runs like 250,” Dowdell said. “He’ll be an impact player.”

Bamba, a sophomore, will double at wide receiver, while senior Xavier Richardson lines up at slot and veteran junior Juan King in the backfield.

Quarterback could fall to either Chauret, returning senior Jujuan King or newcomer Solomon White, a junior from Missouri who possesses “a high football IQ,” Dowdell said.

It might take a few weeks for favored teams to be sorted out; during that span, island fans can expect some exciting games, Dowdell said. “It’s going to be a football lover’s dream on Guam this year,” he said.

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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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