Yokota retooling, but championships still the goal
August 17, 2005
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — This season might present the toughest rebuilding task Tim Pujol has faced in his seven years as the coach of the Yokota Panthers, the Pacific’s most successful high school football program in that span.
From the team that stretched its Pacific-record winning streak to 48 games and won its sixth straight Japan Football League and fifth consecutive Rising Sun Bowl titles, only three starters return, plus 17 junior varsity players, some of whom saw varsity action, and a handful of incoming transfers.
“If you look at it, we average 25 percent of our players returning, about seven or eight for the following season. You can build around that,” said Pujol, who’s known nothing but championships in every season since arriving at Yokota in the summer of 1999.
Now, with only senior linemen Garret McCaw and Mark Dixon and junior kicking specialist Stefan Welch as his only returning starters, “it will be a little tougher,” Pujol said.
Still, as the Panthers entered their second week of two-a-day summer workouts this week with the opener 2½ weeks away, Pujol insists that the cupboard is not completely bare.
Gone, however, are the days of fielding a team with two or three standout players and a solid supporting cast. The last in the line of superstar backs, 2004 Rising Sun Bowl MVP Chris Roach, graduated last spring, taking his 1,970 all-purpose yards and 26 touchdowns with him.
In his place, Pujol said, are 26 players, all of whom “will make contributions. Good role players,” he said.
Most of them are homegrown, including the 17-strong 2004 JV cadre of whom senior running back Scott Monahan and junior quarterback Tom Gass saw limited varsity action, among others.
A lot may hinge on the performance of Gass, along with senior transfer Doug Bloom, who moves in after starting his junior year under center for Guam High. They’ll battle to replace two-year starter Shawn Novak, who graduated last spring.
“He’s looking good,” Pujol said of Bloom. “Tom has more experience in the system, but Doug is smart, he’s picking things up fast, and he’s enthusiastic, a hard worker and very positive."
A line gutted by graduation and transfers will get help from senior James Scott, who came in too late for football season but wrestled last winter. Moving in is senior Jacob Riddle from South Carolina, and bolstering the defensive back ranks is senior transfer Jason Ricks.
They’re joined by seniors Reuben Pittman and Cameron Cooper, who each played two seasons ago but sat out last year, and senior Corey Sykes, who’s been in the program for four years along with senior Andreas Cabral, who follows in the footsteps of his older brother, Rickey, at tight end.
Two of Scott’s wrestling teammates, junior Kyle Shimabukuro and sophomore Patrick Pamintuan, are small players who can hit hard, Pujol said. Shimabukuro will line up at center and Pamintuan at strong safety.
“We don’t have as many bodies, but they’re capable of contributing,” Pujol said. “The guys from the JV, we know they’ll play well, and the ones new to the school, they’ll step up and contribute.”
And among that bunch, Pujol feels, “the stars are there. It will take a few games for them to step up and shine.”
They’ll have a couple of tuneup games against Japanese high school teams, on Friday and again on Aug. 26, before opening defense of their JFL and Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools titles on Sept. 2, again at home against Zama American.
“We’ll be competitive,” Pujol said. “The JV coaching staff did a great job with the kids who have to step up and fill roles. They’re going to do it. The kids are smart, serious and they’re willing to work.”