Senior Justin Brown will be one of three players vying for the Zama quarterback spot.

Senior Justin Brown will be one of three players vying for the Zama quarterback spot. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)

Ninth in a series of DODDS Pacific high school football team previews.

CAMP ZAMA, Japan – During Steven Merrell’s first seven years as Zama American football coach, invariably a star player or two such as Michael Spencer, Andre Encarnacion or Mitchell Harrison would be there to do much of the team’s heavy lifting.

The latest luminary the Trojans have to replace is departed quarterback Nick Zeagler. And there’s no standout star ready to step up and be the face of the team this season, Merrell said.

“It is a tall order” to replace Zeagler, Merrell said. “But that’s kind of like in DODDS, you have to be ready to move forward. The next guy needs to be ready to go.”

But who will that be?

It could be Justin Brown, the team’s junior all-purpose back. It could be tight end-defensive end Joseph Atkinson on one side of the line and Ryuji Van Deusen on the other. It could be Merrell’s son, Kylar, a senior who along with Brown and Atkinson can also play quarterback.

“It remains to be seen,” the elder Merrell said. “We have to let the season play itself out. Maybe somebody will step up and be the guy. It may be success by committee. That’s fine with me, as long as it involves success.”

Merrell calls the 2014 Trojans “the consummate team right now,” a team with some size, some veterans and some experience combined with a swell of incoming freshmen ready to contribute.

“Put it all together, you have a nice team,” he said. “We have some quality in the line on both sides of the ball and good speed in spots.”

Historically, Merrell has employed a Wing-T with some spread elements; they’ll go primarily with the Pistol, a read-option package. But it’s not a radical departure from anything the Trojans have done previously, Merrell says.

“(The quarterback) not being under center isn’t totally foreign to us,” he said.

Zama will get its first big test right off the bat, hosting defending DODDS Japan champion Nile C. Kinnick, one of the favorites to win the Far East Division I title.

All Zama home games this season will be on its newly turfed Trojans Field, instead of splitting between Zama and Naval Air Facility Atsugi’s Reid Memorial Stadium, Merrell said.

And they’ll have more opposition standing in the way of a chance at hosting the Far East Division II title game, which Japan is in the rotation to do this year.

In addition to regular opponent Robert D. Edgren, Matthew C. Perry is fielding a varsity team for the first time since the 2003 season.

“It’s always good to expand the league and increase the competition; it’s good for the athletes to have those opportunities,” Merrell 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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