Yokota's focus could shift from scoring points to stopping them

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Tim Pujol hopes that better balance, improved defense and perhaps some scoring on defense and special teams will keep Yokota pointed in the right direction. Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes
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Tim Pujol hopes that better balance, improved defense and perhaps some scoring on defense and special teams will keep Yokota pointed in the right direction. Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes

Yokota's focus could shift from scoring points to stopping them

by: Dave Ornauer | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: September 06, 2016
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – From the Pacific’s leading scoring offense a year ago, Yokota may find itself having to take an opposite tack this season – holding down opposing offenses and keeping scores low.
 
T.J. Reney, a junior, moves over from split end to quarterback, replacing Marcus Henagan.
Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes
 
That’s the approach coach Tim Pujol might take, now that he and the Panthers lost four players chiefly responsible for scoring 54 touchdowns – all but three by the team – and gaining 4,000-plus yards from scrimmage.
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“That’s a lot of offense,” said Pujol, entering his 18th season at Yokota’s helm with a collection of mostly sophomores and juniors. Only five seniors dot the roster.
 
“So there you go,” he said. Pujol’s ledger isn’t quite as thin as it was in 2013, following Yokota’s back-to-back Far East Division I titles, “but it’s pretty close.”
 
In their first season as a Division II team, the Panthers averaged 50.9 points per game last season, and made it to the Far East title game, where they lost 51-36 at Daegu.
 
If Yokota is to make it back to the title game – Japan is the host district this season – it will be with a new man at the controls of Pujol’s veer-oriented attack.
 
Junior T.J. Reney moves over from split end to fill the shoes vacated by Marcus Henagan, now at Lyon College in Arkansas.
 
Reney is one of seven starters returning. “We have good team speed, and enough starters to build around. A solid core,” Pujol said.
 
The job of filling in for departed featured back Shota Sprunger will likely fall to Shomari Tindal, a senior. Junior Jalen Harrison moves from the line to fullback.
 
Reney, also a baseball player, might find himself throwing the ball quite a bit. He’ll have several targets from which to choose, including sophomore Manny Mptias, juniors Tyson Hamilton, C.J. Thomas and Marquis Smith-Brown – who’ll also double at safety – and Kameron Joseph, a senior who also plays linebacker – “He’ll be an impact player,” Pujol said.
 
The line got quite a bit smaller when Christian Sonnenberg, a senior, chose not to come out, instead focusing on track and field.
 
That leaves one starter, senior Nathan Ferrer, in the interior. He’ll be joined by senior center Emerson Gaume and sophomore guard Brian Palmer. “We like his potential,” Pujol said.
 
The reigning DODEA-Japan and Kanto Plain champion Panthers fully expect to contend for those titles as well as a repeat D-II title-game berth, but “It’s not a lock by any means,” Pujol said.
 
Yokota’s offensive line must come together and be more consistent, while the defense and special teams need to improve and even score points, Pujol said.
 
“Last year, we outscored teams,” he said. “This year, we have to keep teams out of the end zone and score points on defense. I don’t think this is the type of team that can win shootouts.”
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