CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — For five years, Charles Burns and Fred Bales patrolled the sidelines, Burns as head coach, Bales as offensive mastermind of the Kubasaki Shogun.

But with Bales taking the head coaching reins of Kubasaki’s other squad, the Samurai, the two finally have separated.

“It’s going to be different,” said Burns, in his 15th season as Shogun head coach. “I’m used to having him there on the sidelines with me.”

They also have taught across the hall from each other since Bales arrived from Panama in 1999. They’ve had plenty of time to learn each other’s philosophy, defensively and offensively. With few secrets left to share, the two games this Okinawa Activities Council season between the Shogun and Samurai may become ultra-competitive.

“There might still be a wrinkle or two hidden on both sides,” Burns said.

Bales becomes the third Samurai head coach in as many seasons; he assumes the helm from Butch Spain, who becomes the team’s defensive coordinator.

“I have a tremendous respect for him,” Bales said of Burns. “I view this as an extension of working with Coach Burns.”

The new coaching arrangement is among a handful of changes for the upcoming OAC season, which opens Sept. 17.

The Samurai and Shogun began practice Wednesday, as did the two squads at Kadena, the Islanders and defending league champion Buccaneers.

While Kadena’s total number of players appears to hold steady this year at about 50 and Kubasaki increased from 30 to 40, all four teams will welcome several new faces and must go about plugging holes vacated by departed stars.

For the Bucs, who went 7-2 last year and won their second OAC title in three years, the big question is not who’ll replace the graduated A.J. Morgan and his 1,689 all-purpose yards and 19 touchdowns, but who will play in the line. The same goes for the Islanders.

“Both teams lost a lot of size,” said Bucs coach Brian Wetherington, who also lost his two assistants from last year, Glen Ballard and David Winters. “This will be more of a speed year, we hope.”

Junior Darnell Womack is a candidate to replace Morgan at tailback. Senior Tyler Schmidt returns at quarterback and sophomore Gary Wright is back at wideout but the line returns just senior Chris Nelson and sophomore Zach Cisco.

Likewise, the Islanders, who improved to 6-2 after going 0-8 in 2002, return key skills positions players, senior backs Keith Loving and David McCowan and sophomore Terrance Crenshaw. But they must fill the leadership vacuum left by Cole Maxey, who transferred to Ramstein, Germany.

“It’s slim pickings right now,” coach Sergio Mendoza said.

Wetherington, Mendoza, Burns and Bales hope to find gems in the rough thanks to a feature unique to the OAC in the Pacific.

The OAC is the only Pacific prep football league with a preseason draft of new players. Teams retain their players from last season, then divvy up newcomers, with the team finishing lower in the standings picking first.

Kadena’s draft will be conducted Wednesday.

“We hope to find more players once school starts” on Monday, Mendoza said.

Kubasaki didn’t wait long to conduct its draft on Thursday. Based simply on numbers, Bales and Burns each had reason for optimism.

Forty players for the first two days of practice is Kubasaki’s “biggest turnout in three years,” Bales said.

“That beats last year by a mile,” Burns added.

Still, it might not mean much to the Shogun and Samurai, who combined for two wins last season. Experience still is lacking, both coaches said.

The Shogun hope to build around three linemen, seniors Joe King and Ronnie Stephens and sophomore David Motu. Replacing departed skills positions players Nick Leemaster and Orlando Bell will be a tough task, Burns said.

“You have to teach,” he said of the bevy of new players. “That’s the question: How deep is the learning curve and how long it will take them to pick up the system?”

Bales said he’ll count on the play of returning juniors Justin Daughtery at quarterback and Thaddeus Reap at tailback, plus sophomore lineman Thomas Spain — and hope for help in the draft.

“The numbers are up but it still looks to be a young and inexperienced group,” he 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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