Fourth in a series of high school football previews.

CAMP ZAMA, Japan –One question reverberates throughout the Zama American football camp: How can Trojans fifth-year coach Steven Merrell replace the irreplaceable?Fullback-linebacker Michael Spencer who compiled 23 touchdowns and 2,276 rushing yards in pacing Zama to its first DODDS Japan and D-II titles in 2009 and a D-II runner-up finish last season, graduated.It’s the nature of the beast, Merrell said. You enjoy having great players while you have them, but they don’t last forever.“Obviously, Mike was a great player and we’re going to miss him,” Merrell said. “But you turn over good players and you move on. If Michael came back tomorrow and said he had one more year, I’d welcome him back. But we’ll move forward. We have some good players ready to step in.”Players such as junior fullback Andre Encarnacion, who became a late-season revelation for the Trojans. He gained 416 yards on 67 carries during the season, and rushed for two touchdowns and recorded three sacks in a 27-9 homecoming win last Oct. 29 over American School In Japan.“He may be one of those guys” who creates his own act to follow Spencer’s, Merrell said. “We have players ready to go. They may not be like Michael was, but they can step in and play hard.”It may be a now-or-never situation for Merrell and the Trojans, whose line is heavily senior-laden and anchored by Roland Cote in the middle. Encarnacion will team with fellow holdover Mitchell Harrison in the backfield.“We have a chance to contend,” Merrell said. “It’s how hard we work as a team.”The Trojans open the DODDS Japan league season by hosting Nile C. Kinnick on Friday, then travel to Robert D. Edgren on Sept. 2 for the first of two regular-season meetings with the Eagles that determine which will play the DODDS-Korea D-II champion for the title on Nov. 5.The Zama-Edgren game at Naval Air Facility Atsugi 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,

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now