Long, winding road for Cougars in 2004
All dressed up and no football field to call their own.
That’s the situation facing the Osan American Cougars as they prepare for Saturday’s Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Korea league opener at Seoul American.
The field adjacent to Osan’s school, used by the football and soccer teams as well as the base intramural rugby, soccer and flag football squads, was closed in June for renovations. It’s the only field on the base large enough to support those sports.
The closure forces the Cougars to play their four regular-season games on the road, a situation coach Tony Alvarado described as “horrible.”
“We tried everything,” Alvarado said of a search for an alternative field.
“We looked at everything we could,” principal Carol Czerw said. “We have no fields that are appropriate at Osan at this time of year. That’s the way it goes.”
Even though, as a result, the Cougars have become the league’s road warriors, it’s a better situation than the team faced last June, when it was feared the school might not even have a football team.
A handful of meetings between football players’ parents and school administrators were held last summer, and a “decision was made to support the program any way we could,” Czerw said. “We’re trying to maintain the sport with limited facilities, doing what we can.”
It was a mixed blessing, Alvarado said.
“The kids are excited to know that there will be football this year, but they’re disappointed to know that there’s no home games, no homecoming,” he said.
One league coach expressed sympathy for the Cougars’ situation.
“No home field advantage, always having to get on a bus to go somewhere,” Taegu American Warriors assistant Ian Eddington said. “That kills you, especially the three- or four-hour bus ride down here.”
For the moment, the Cougars are preparing for their four-game season by practicing on a youth services softball field near the base’s main gate. There are no goalposts and the field isn’t lined.
“It’s going to be an uphill battle,” Alvarado said. “We haven’t worked on a lined field. We don’t have a good sense of what 10 yards is. When we go to Seoul is the first time we’ll be on a full field all season.”
They’ll also have to contend with a Seoul American Falcons squad that is riding a 16-game winning streak, dating back to the final two seasons of when the league was run by Korea’s youth services.
The Falcons, Warriors and Cougars play a double round-robin schedule. The league then puts together an All-Star team for the annual World Bowl against the Singapore American Community Action Council’s All-Star team.
The tentative date for World Bowl XII is Nov. 13, to be hosted by the league’s champion team. Singapore won the World Bowl last year, 55-6 at Singapore American School.
A significant advantage for Seoul American is drawing from a student pool of approximately 600, while Osan and Taegu American’s enrollment is much less, about 125 per school.
Still, Alvarado exuded confidence in that his team’s numbers are up, to around 30, a 33-percent increase from last season. Taegu enjoyed a 20-percent increase to about 25 players.
The question is whether Taegu or Osan can beat the big boys.
“That’s always talked about,” Alvarado said. “The guys are fired up. We practice hard every day to get that big win. I think they can. It’s time to get to the next level, not just say we can play, but we can win.”
Still, not since five years ago, when Yongsan Garrison fielded split-squad teams of Seoul American players, has Yongsan lost to either Taegu or Osan, when the Yongsan Dragons fell 30-24 to the Warriors on Nov. 14, 1999.
Osan shared the 1996 title with the Dragons; the Cougars’ last win over a Yongsan team was 20-16 over the Raiders on Oct. 5, 1996. The only outright league title won by a team south of the Han River was Taegu in 1993.
The Falcons don’t have the experience of last year’s team, but coach Julian Harden is excited about this squad’s speed.
“In all honesty, I have some guys who are going to cause our competition a great deal of problems,” Harden said of six backs, seniors Leo Pacheco, Phillippe Anglade, Kris Stadler, Woong Lee and Sam Crothers — a former Cougar — and sophomore newcomer Marcus McGhee.
The Warrior Nation, meanwhile, expects another rebuilding campaign on top of their winless 2003 season, Eddington said. Only two seniors dot the lineup, but there is a strong core of underclassmen.
“It’s a good beginning,” he said. “If we can keep the program together, if these kids stay in country, it could be good for the future. Last season was not stellar, but you have to start somewhere.”