Pacific playoff system changes the face of football in Korea
For Seoul American, which dominated the past two seasons in the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Korea Football League, the path to a championship just became a tad harder.
Tiny Osan American and Taegu American — the Falcons’ whipping boys those seasons — have new hope for chasing a Far East championship.
That’s thanks to the new DODDS-Pacific Far East football playoff system, implemented this year to crown champions in Class AA and Class A.
“It has put a whole different spring in our step,” Taegu coach George Speer said, adding that 50 percent more players have come out this season. “This has been a big motivator for us.”
On Nov. 5, Korea will host the Class A title game matching Osan or Taegu, whichever has the better record, and Robert D. Edgren, the only Class A team in Japan.
Speer’s Warriors have lost 10 straight games to Seoul American. However they fare against the Falcons, who own a 20-game winning streak, they still have a legitimate shot at a championship.
“We’ve been able to sell our kids on that,” Speer said.
Agreed Osan American coach Tony Alvarado: “It … gives us a realistic chance at a Far East championship. … The players are really pumped about having this season mean something.”
For the Falcons, it means an unfamiliar uncertainty. Coach Julian Harden said his team now has to prepare for teams he hasn’t seen.
“We don’t know anything about them,” he said. “It presents more of a challenge and is a true test of wit for our coaching staff.”
Seoul American’s enrollment — more than 600 in grades 9 thorough 12 — gives it a significant advantage against Osan and Taegu, which historically have topped out from 100 to 150.
For football to mirror other sports — such as volleyball, basketball and soccer — in which DODDS-Pacific-sponsored Far East tournaments are segregated by enrollment, DODDS-Pacific’s Far East Activities Council chair Don Hobbs was tasked with devising a Far East-wide playoff, which was adopted last spring.
With the enrollment demarcation line at 360, Seoul American is in the Class AA category and in the playoff rotation to host the Japan Football League large-schools champion: Nile C. Kinnick, Zama American or six-time champion Yokota.
A young Falcons team, Harden said, will host that championship. With just five returning starters, “we are definitely in a rebuilding state. We lost our whole line and our whole backfield.
“Nine kids on the team have never played before. Our chances … will be solely dependent on how long it will take us to pull it together and operate as a team.”
On the Class A front, Speers says that while the Warriors welcome back 11 starters and 14 players who saw significant playing time last season, depth and experience remain a concern.
Still, he expressed optimism his Warriors finally could secure their first victory since the 2002 season over an Osan American squad in dire straits as to depth and experience.
Alvarado returns just four starters, has 21 freshmen and sophomores on the roster and new players in every skills position. “I’m not sure what to expect this season,” he said.
World Bowl future unclearThe DODDS-Pacific playoff makes no provision, Hedgpath said, for continuing the World Bowl, an All-Star series against Singapore senior youth teams which began in 1991.
“It hasn’t died,” Hedgpath said, noting that for the series to continue, Korea would have to find a travel window that does not involve missing school, such as a holiday weekend. Columbus Day weekend occurs at midseason, while Thanksgiving weekend is too late and conflicts with the start of basketball and wrestling seasons.
“It’s not totally lost but it won’t happen this year,” he said.
2005 Korea football team capsulesSeoul American Falcons,South Post, Yongsan Garrison, S. Korea
2004 record-4-0, 87 points for, 13 against. Won second straight DODDS-Korea championship, four straight league titles dating back to 2001 Korea Youth Activities League-Senior Division season. Riding 20-game winning streak, second-best in Pacific.
Coach-Julian Harden, third season, overall record 8-0, two straight league championships.
Base defense-5-man fronts.
Key returnees-Bruce Voelker, Sr., QB; Jeremy “Ice” Christopher, Sr., WR-S; Marque Snow, Sr., FB-NG; Charles Jones, Sr., MLB; Justin Lee, Sr., DE; David Feliciano, Jr., CB-S; Chris Steuerwald, Sr., CB; David Robinson, Sr., L; Daniel Burns, So., FL; Charles Vanderkoff, So., L.
Key newcomers-Calvin Lasane, Jr., WR; Matt Bronson, So., L; Derek Jackson, Fr., S; Kevin Stadler, Fr., LB.
Strengths-Small core of senior leadership at critical positions.
Weaknesses-Lack of depth, experience. Not as big or fast as in past years.
Overview-Rebuilding/reloading. Falcons always have advantage in league play based on numbers; school enrollment is at least four times that of their small-school counterparts Osan American and Taegu American. Depends on how quickly Harden can mold his veterans with the newcomers.
Taegu American Warriors,Camps George, Henry and Walker, S. Korea
2004 record-0-4, last place, 18 points for, 142 against. Have lost 10 straight games dating back to 2002 Korea Youth Activities League-Senior Division season.
Coach-George Speer, first year.
Base defense-5- and 4-man fronts.
Key returnees-Tony Butts, Sr., OL-DL; Kory Grammer, Sr., RB; Sidney Washington, Sr., RB; Daniel Pressley, So., QB-RB; Sheldon Scott, So., RB; David Menges, Jr., OL-DL; Angel Hickman, So., RB-DB-K; Joseph Brown, So., DB.
Key newcomers-Jamison Walter, So., E-FB; Kevin McDowell, Jr., OL-DL; Brendan Watkins, Jr., RB; Joanne Youngblood, Sr., PK.
Strengths-Solid core of experienced veterans, particularly at skills positions. Size and strength in line.
Weaknesses-Lack of depth.
Overview-Reloading, contending for small-schools title. Though still thin in numbers and young, a good many started last season as freshmen and sophomores. Could challenge for Taegu’s first grid title of any kind since winning its lone Korea Youth Activities League-Senior Division title 12 years ago.
Osan American Cougars,Osan Air Base, South Korea
2004 record-2-2, second place, 79 points for, 52 against.
Coach-Tony Alvarado, third season, overall record 4-4.
Base offense-Multiple pro and I.
Base defense-4-3 and 4-4.
Key returnees-Carlos Albaladejo, Jr., RB-K; Levi Ames, Sr., OL.
Key newcomers-Matthew Stokes, Sr., LB-FB; Shawn Shoults, Sr., QB; Chung Yim, Jr., TE-DE, Donny Keshel, So., DT-OL; Jonathan Shoults, So., DT-OL; William Rapoza, Fr., RB-C; Tae Benson, Fr., WR-C.
Strengths-Multitalented veteran Albaladejo.
Weaknesses-Youth and inexperience everywhere; new players at all skills positions.
Overview-Rebuilding. As young a team as it gets, with 21 freshmen and sophomores. Perhaps a year or two away from contending, if Alvarado stays in place and maintains a semblance of continuity.
Korea football schedule
Saturday, Sept. 24
Seoul American at Osan American, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 1
Osan American at Taegu American, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 8
Taegu American at Seoul American, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 15
Osan American at Seoul American, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 22
Seoul American at Taegu American, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 29
Taegu American at Osan American, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 5
Class AA semifinal
Japan Football League Class AA champion at Seoul American, 1 p.m.
Class A Championship
Robert D. Edgren at Taegu American or Osan American, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 12
Class AA Championship
Japan Football League Class AA champion or Seoul American at Okinawa Activities Council district champion or Guam High, time and site to be determined.