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Second in a series of high school football previews.

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan – They’re hoping for a return to prominence after seeing their mojo disappear the last two seasons — going a combined 4-12 following their dominance of the Far East Division II football scene with three straight championships from 2006-08.

The last two years, Robert D. Edgren watched and suffered as Zama American captured the 2009 title and Daegu American won it last year. Their coaching staffs have talked about their blossoming rivalry and how it may last for years to come.

“We’re going to put a stop to that,” Edgren second-year coach Michael Gros said Monday at the start of the third week of practice.

The Eagles open the DODDS Japan league season Friday at defending champion Yokota, then host Zama on Sept. 2 in Edgren’s home opener and first of two regular-season meetings with the Trojans that determine which will play the DODDS-Korea D-II champion for the title on Nov. 5.

Five Eagles seniors — Matt Bernal, Spencer Robison, Keaton Lewis, Sean Gammel and James Bowman, some of whom were there as freshmen when Edgren won its last title — are taking charge of the drive back to the D-II title game, Gros said.

“The seniors are the core,” he said. “They’re driving this. They’re starving.”

Lewis, in particular, will be counted on to play a two-way role at fullback and linebacker. “We’re expecting big things from him this year,” Gros said.

The Eagles also welcome back a coaching connection to that title trifecta: Chris Waite, who was the head coach back then and returns after a year’s hiatus to run Edgren’s full-house backfield offense.

While that core of seniors and Waite have returned, the Eagles still have much work to do to regain passage to the mountaintop, Gros said. The Eagles are thin in numbers, with 30 total players; there won’t be a JV program this year, and most of his players are young.

Gros’ approach, he says, is two-pronged: Keep the senior leadership well-grounded, and get everybody to understand it takes a team to win it all.

“I try to keep my kids humble,” Gros said of trying to ensure his players know where and when to face up to their opposition. “I’d rather they showed it on the field than on Facebook or a blog. Let them (opponents) do the talking.”

In the past couple of years, “there was good individual talent, but not always teamwork” needed to put it all together.

“What will make the difference is if the team is gelling together,” Gros said. “Our focus this year is that it takes a ream. No one individual is going to win a championship.”

Edgren’s game at Zama on Sept. 30 will determine who travels to Korea for the Nov. 5 game, at either Daegu or Osan American, which last won the D-II title in the game’s inaugural year, 2005.

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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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