Plenty on hand to fill new roles, holes for Kubasaki

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 Kubasaki Dragons 11th-year football coach Fred Bales.    Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes
From Stripes.com
Kubasaki Dragons 11th-year football coach Fred Bales. Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes

Plenty on hand to fill new roles, holes for Kubasaki

by: Dave Ornauer | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: September 03, 2015

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – Isaiah Johnson spent last season catching passes from the Pacific’s leader in total offense. When Kubasaki begins its 2015 campaign Friday at Kadena, he’ll take his turn on the opposite end of the Dragons’ passing game.

The senior engaged in a spirited battle for the job during spring workouts and again during summer camp with fellow veteran receiver Jacob Green, and won the starting job. He’ll be under center and in the shotgun when the Dragons tee it up with the Panthers; kickoff is at 6 p.m.

Among the things Johnson brings to the table is “senior leadership,” longtime Dragons coach Fred Bales said. “He’s an explosive athlete with a strong arm and he’s a good decision-maker.” He and Green have “great football IQs and a lot of ability.”

It may be a tall order to replace the yardage and touchdown totals of Johnson’s predecessor, DeCurtis Davis (1,543 yards, 27 touchdowns). While Davis’ numbers may not be duplicated, Johnson and Green are “different types of talents,” Bales said.

Johnson will serve as trigger man for a Kubasaki team flush in bodies, veterans and new blood alike – 60 players turned out for Bales, in his 11th season at the Dragons’ helm and his 38th year of coaching overall – with 25 players returning, the most he’s had in awhile, nine of them starters.

Bales invoked the word “solid” repeatedly to describe both his cadre of skills-positions players and the veterans in the line.

“We had a concern about our wideouts, but we got in some new help,” Bales said of people like Miles Mahlock, who came over from soccer.

Losing linemen Josiah Allen and Christian Fernandez could have hurt, but enough linemen return that the interior “will be solid,” Bales said.

In Mahlock, who stands 6 feet tall but gets great hang time, the Dragons present matchup problems in the passing game. Jailen Pa’u, another senior, lines up at the other receiver slot. Javohn Journigan, a junior, will likely line up in the backfield after playing receiver a year ago; Lester Parker, a sophomore, might join him in the backfield. “He’s a bullet,” Bales said.

Malock is “the fastest human being at Kubasaki,” Bales said. “He’s a talent. He can do anything you need him to and he’s a great kid. He’s going to put some pop and sizzle in our kicking game, which we’ve really needed.”

Anchoring the line is a senior triad of Gary Turner, Caleb Sablan and Kyree Smith, with senior Preston Snyder, the team’s leader in fumble recoveries last year, lining up at defensive end. Junior lineman Antony Gomez will be a “force in the middle” when he returns from injury, Bales said.

If there’s a concern in Dragonland, as Bales calls it, it’s how to replace departed linebackers such as Sho Green. The only returning linebacker is Marcus Lee.

“We’re solid in the back and front, but the turnover in the linebacker core, that’s a concern,” Bales said. “We also have to get better in special teams.”

Comparatively speaking, the last four seasons have been successful ones for Kubasaki; the Dragons have reached four straight Far East Division I title games, but have only won one of them, 34-31 in overtime in 2013 at Kadena. They won the Okinawa district last year, but lost the D-I title game 41-27 to Kadena on their home turf.

“I think we’re going to have a solid team,” Bales said. “I’m not predicting an order of finish, but I’m excited. I’m optimistic. We have reason to be.”

ornauer.dave@stripes.com