The pendulum in Okinawa football seems to be swinging back to the Kadena teams, and numbers are providing the push.

The difference was obvious during last Friday’s Okinawa High School Athletic Association’s preseason football jamboree.

“They had a brigade over there, and we had a rifle squad,” Kubasaki Shogun coach Charles Burns said. “They’re stacked pretty good.”

Kadena’s Buccaneers and Islanders, who combined had 38 players at the end of last season, now have almost twice that number.

Burns’ Shogun and defending league champion Kubasaki Samurai, coached by John Glenn, meanwhile, face a season with rosters depleted by an exodus of families leaving Okinawa when the Marine Corps lifted its stop loss and stop move programs in June.

Stop loss is a Defense Department program designed to retain servicemembers beyond established dates of separation or retirement.

Burns, entering his 13th season with the Shogun, estimates he lost 15 potential starters from last season. Glenn, in his third year as Samurai head coach, says the most players he’s had at any practice this summer is 17.

“Stop loss got us, and we’re going to pay the price for a while,” Burns said, adding that he’d talked to a Marine Corps personnel official on Okinawa who told him that “he’d cut orders for 100 people in just two weeks after stop loss was lifted.”

“Our population is down, and nobody seems to be coming down the pike,” Burns said. “That’s going to make a difference.”

“We’re on the downside, and Kadena’s on the upside of the cycle,” Burns said. “Everything goes in cycles. It’ll come back our way, but it’s going to take some time.”

Weather permitting, league play begins Friday. Super Typhoon Maemi threatened to push the openers back to Saturday or Monday.

This year’s island champion hosts the Japan Football League winner in the Rising Sun Bowl, the Department of Defense Dependents Schools All-Japan championship game, won last year by Yokota 57-14 over the Samurai.

Kubasaki has captured all but four OHSAA titles since Kadena opened in 1981 and the league went to a format of two teams per school.

“In this league, things go in cycles,” second-year Islanders coach Sergio Mendoza said. “I think the tide has turned.”

Two seasons ago, the Buccaneers broke a seven-year Kadena dry spell by reaching the Rising Sun Bowl. They returned to the OHSAA’s league title game again last November.

“This year’s group had a taste of it last year, and they know the hard work it takes to get back there,” said fourth-year coach Brian Wetherington, whose team has two-year backs A.J. Morgan and Blayne Myles among its 14 returning starters.

Even the Islanders, who have gone 3-18 the past three seasons, are optimistic with a roster that’s ballooned from 17 players last season to 38 this season, with eight starters among 17 returning players.

“I’ve never seen a team so willing to listen and learn,” said Mendoza, whose team was outscored 204-24 and went 0-8 last season. “Even with those beatings, they never stopped swinging. That’s going to help out tremendously. We have depth. It’s the fastest team I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen a group have the eye of the tiger like this one.”

Friday’s openers, pitting the Isles against the Bucs at 4 p.m. and the Shogun vs. the Samurai at 7 p.m., appeared to be under a cloud. Maemi was forecast to skirt 90 miles west of Okinawa from Wednesday night to early Friday morning. The winds were expected to top out at 100 mph.

Since the 1995 season, 11 games have been postponed, and two canceled entirely, because of bad weather.

“You deal with it,” Burns said. “It’s just a normal thing. So what if you’re in the house for a day or two? You just reshuffle the schedule, and in some cases, it gives you another day to prepare, a chance to rethink everything before you put it on display.”

Okinawa teams at a glance

Kadena Buccaneers

Kadena Air Base, Okinawa

2002 record: 6-3, .667, 131 points for, 107 against. Second in Okinawa High School Athletic Association.

Coach: Brian Wetherington, fourth year, overall record 16-8, league title in 2001.

Returning players: 16.

Returning starters: 14.

Base offense: Multiple.

Base defense: 5-2 and 4-4.

Players to watch: A.J. Morgan, Sr., RB; Blayne Myles, Sr., FB; Gary Wright, Fr., WR/CB (newcomer); Grant Knowles, Sr., L; Alex Juarez, Sr., L; Heath Anderson, Sr., QB.

Strengths: Good team speed, “a big thing to have on Okinawa,” Wetherington said. Led by Morgan and Myles, team holds experience in many spots, not many key holes to fill.

Weaknesses: Depth could be a worry, as Wetherington will work with drafted players to ensure they can succeed and help give starters a breather.

Overview: After reaching Rising Sun Bowl in 2001 and just missing in last year’s island championship game, Wetherington feels his team has “had a taste” of winning and knows what it has to do to return to title game.

Kubasaki Shogun

Camp Foster, Okinawa

2002 record: 5-3, .625, 116 points for, 64 against. Third in Okinawa High School Athletic Association.

Coach: Charles Burns, 13th season, overall record 36-37, one league title.

Returning players: 8.

Returning starters: 3.

Base offense: Multiple.

Base defense: 5-2.

Players to watch: Orlando Bell, Sr., QB; Nick Leemaster, Jr., PK/P/L; Ronnie Stevens, Sr., TE; Chris Robinson, Sr., WR.

Strengths: Bell, already a mature and experienced athlete who can throw as well as run, “has only gotten better,” Burns said. Receivers also catch well. Team learning fast, very coachable and enthusiastic.

Weaknesses: Lifting of Marines’ “stop-loss” and “stop-move” and ensuing exodus of families from island robbed Shogun of what could have been 15 returning players. Youth and inexperience will hurt.

Overview: As has been customary in recent years, experienced skills positions players will help put points on board, but inexperience and lack of depth, particularly in line, could relegate Shogun to also-ran status.

Kadena Islanders

Kadena Air Base, Okinawa

2002 record: 0-8, .000, 24 points for, 204 against. Last in Okinawa High School Athletic Association.

Coach: Sergio Mendoza, second year, overall record 0-8.

Returning players: 17.

Returning starters: 8.

Base offense: I.

Base defense: 4-3.

Players to watch: Alex Berrios, Sr., QB (newcomer); Cole Maxey, Jr., C/DT/LB; Antwan Smith, Sr., RB.

Strengths: Mendoza sees strengths across board. From 17 players at end of last season, roster has bulked up to 38. Biggest team sizewise in last five years, with depth and good team speed.

Weaknesses: Keeping all players healthy is Mendoza’s main concern.

Overview: Hope in Islander country is 3-18 record of past three seasons is history. Mendoza’s plan is to start winning cycle this season and build on that for future years.

Kubasaki Samurai

Camp Foster, Okinawa

2002 record: 7-3, .700, 252 points for, 169 against. Defending Okinawa High School Athletic Association champion.

Coach: John Glenn, third season, overall record 11-7.

Returning players: 5.

Returning starters: 3.

Base offense: Option I.

Base defense: 5-2 monster.

Players to watch: Paul Haecherl, So., L; Shawn Vaught, Sr., RB; Justin Dougherty, So., QB.

Strengths: With one eye cast toward future, Glenn feels he has “sound building blocks” in youngsters Haecherl in the line and Dougherty under center. Lack of title expectations also means “no distractions.”

Weaknesses: As with Shogun, lifting of “stop-loss” and “stop-move” along with graduation of top stars such as RB Andre Johnson leaves Samurai with severe lack of depth (17 total players), experience.

Overview: Days of reaching Rising Sun Bowls (three of the first four), running off long winning streaks (20 straight wins from 1996-2000) are clearly at end, at least for this season.

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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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