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Third in a series of high school football previews.

CAMP ZAMA, Japan – Don’t look back. Keep moving forward. That’s the mantra Zama American football is using as the 2013 season approaches, the Trojans’ first in three years without stars Andre Encarnacion and Mitchell Harrison in the backfield. A new batch of seniors, without those guys’ pedigrees but with plenty of heart and desire, are ready to fill those vacated shoes and keep the Trojans, the defending Far East Division II champions, on that same winning track, seventh-year coach Steven Merrell said. “Ever since the D-II game ended” with Zama beating Robert D. Edgren 35-20, “they’ve been looking forward to the opportunity. They’re key as we enter this season,” Merrell said. He was speaking of holdovers Raymond Bestor and Rafael Morales, who look to be the new running backs, two-way back Hiro Beale and linemen Kalob Gunn, Adrian Evangelista and Michael Patterson. “We have a good senior class, a lot of leadership,” Merrell said. Those seniors, along with new quarterback Nick Zeagler, a junior who saw some action last year, inherit a legacy that features D-II titles in 2009 and 2012, which sandwiched a pair of title-game losses to Daegu. It could be easy, Merrell said, for Zama to hide behind the “rebuilding” label, and to an extent the Trojans are. It’s hard to replace departed stars, he said, but rewarding if you can do so. “It’s always tough to replace high-profile guys, but that’s the nature of DODDS sports,” Merrell said. “We have guys who we think will fit into our scheme and be successful in our scheme. You can’t look back. You have to look forward. People have to step up, fill those shoes and move forward.” The Division II title-game selection process remains the same as last year’s, except only three teams, Daegu, Edgren and Zama, are chasing the crown, with Osan American playing a non-varsity schedule this year. That number will double next year, when Osan returns to a varsity schedule, joined by fledgling Humphreys High in Korea and when Matthew C. Perry becomes a varsity program after two seasons as non-varsity. A new twist to the season: All of the Trojans’ home games will be played at Naval Air Facility Atsugi’s Reid Memorial Stadium. More than half the school’s population resides at Atsugi, about a half hour from Camp Zama. Now, all four Kanto Plain teams will play on field turf. “That will be exciting,” Merrell said, adding that it was a mutual arrangement between the school and base command, with Zama’s home field currently not suitable for playing games. “It seemed like the natural thing to do. And it’s great for the Atsugi kids.” Zama opens Friday at Nile C.

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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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