Football season arrives for DODEA schools

Story and photos by Thomas Warner
contributing writer
Longtime rivals Ramstein and Kaiserslautern will square off next weekend to open the 2018 DODEA football season.

College and professional football are ready to kick off their 2018 seasons and area high schools will be playing their first games in coming weeks. Ramstein will host longtime rival Kaiserslautern on Sept. 8 and Baumholder will start out September 22 with a road game at Brussels.

Classes have now been in session a full week at Department of Defense Education Activity schools but football athletes began much earlier this summer, with two-a-day workouts and heavy conditioning leading up to their first games. The ultimate goal is to make a playoff run in late October and early November when the Europeans Championships take place.

Coach Phil Loyd and the Baumholder Buccaneers will be part of a new Division III grouping this season after going 4-2 last season.

Ramstein Royals
Last season: 4-1 (division), 5-1 (overall)

  • Sept. 8 vs. Kaiserslautern
  • Sept. 15 vs. Stuttgart
  • Sept. 22 at Vilseck
  • Sept. 29 vs. Lakenheath
  • Oct. 13 at Wiesbaden
  • Oct. 20 at Kaiserslautern
  • Oct. 27 Europeans semifinals
  • Nov. 3 Europeans championship

Ramstein did not stumble last season, making another appearance in the Division 1 championship game against Stuttgart. The Royals and Panthers were the top two teams in the standings for 2017 and the 26-21 victory by Stuttgart capped what was a competitive year throughout base schools in Europe.

This is the third season for Ramstein coach Carter Hollenbeck and his squad enters 2018 as one of the favorites to win a Division I championship. Ramstein has appeared in six of the past seven DODEA championship games and has the roster to duplicate those successes now.

“We usually give it about 60 days after the season ends, then we shut the book on what happened for that school year — that chapter,” said Hollenbeck, an assistant coach at the school prior to taking the top job. “We tell the kids it’s in the past and we focus everything from that point on our goals and potential for the next year.”

Players who will provide leadership with the 2018 Ramstein grid team include (from left) Nick Scherzer, Jacob Steinbeck, Naser Eaves, and Bailey Holland.

Part of closing the book involves finding replacements for graduated seniors and players whose families moved away, but it also means assessing the remaining talent and finding the best positional fit for each player. Ramstein had about 70 players out for initial tryouts and will use people this season in both varsity action and junior varsity games.

“Good programs are always looking to the future and trying to get game experience for as many kids each season as possible,” Hollenbeck said. “We place a high value on junior varsity games as well as our varsity season. You want to see how they react to being in games and the pressures that come with that live action.”

One new player for the Royals won’t require as much evaluation is Nick Scherzer, an All-Europe lineman for Division II champion Spangdahlem who moved to the KMC during the offseason. Scherzer is a senior now and is seen as a key figure on both the offensive and defensive lines for the 2018 Royals.

Other linemen of note include juniors Logan Ridenbaugh and Kyle Lloyd, who may each wind up playing both offense and defense. All-Europe middle linebacker Bailey Holland played a huge role in last year’s team and is ready for his senior season.

Hollenbeck said returning seniors Cameron Chester and Naser Eaves, plus hard-nosed junior J.J. Little will be roaming the defensive backfield. Little and Eaves have plenty of offensive skill position experience and, as multisport participants, are two of the most versatile athletes in DODEA Division I.

The Royals will have a new starting quarterback, with the trio of senior Jacob Steinbeck, junior Drew Hodges, and sophomore Kaleb Bellew showing the most promise during summer two-a-day workouts. Steinbeck came in and showed good mobility in last season’s Euro title game loss.

Carter Hollenbeck begins his third season as Ramstein head coach after guiding the Royals to the Division I title game in both 2016 and 2017.

Kaiserslautern Raiders
Last season: 1-4 (division), 1-5 (overall)

  • Sept. 8 at Ramstein
  • Sept. 15 vs. Lakenheath
  • Sept. 22 at Wiesbaden
  • Sept. 29 vs. Vilseck (HC)
  • Oct. 13 at Stuttgart
  • Oct. 20 vs. Ramstein
  • Oct. 27 Europeans semifinals
  • Nov. 3 Europeans championship

Kaiserslautern enters 2018 with a new head coach and seeks positive results after winning just one game a season ago. New head coach Duke Allen and his group of assistants will forge the Raiders’ new mentality. Allen inherited several holdover players from Lyn Hairstone’s 2017 team and brings a grappler’s mindset after leading the wrestling program and teaching history and science classes previously for base schools at Sigonella, Italy, and Osan, Korea.

“We had a really good first week after I arrived and we’re trying to keep that going as we enter the weeks ahead,” said Allen. “The boys are working hard and I’ve got a great group of coaches here that are helping me. We are running hard and learning a lot.”

Kaiserslautern students have moved into a brand new school this year and athletes from several sports spent the last days of summer going through practices on brand new fields, courts, and turf at the Vogelweh campus.

Duke Allen enters his first season as head coach at Kaiserslautern after previously teaching and coaching at Sigonella, Italy, and Osan, Korea.

Austin Higby is a senior Raider lineman who distinguished himself with shot put and discus success at last season’s Europeans track and field championships. Higby will play both offense and defense, as will a few of the other bigger bodies on the roster.

Corey Coombs is a senior running back and will play in the defensive secondary. Quarterback Esteban Saldana returns under center and at free safety defensively but overall, the Raiders are fielding a very young team this season. Senior Cedric Ellis is expected to give spark to the KHS offense while Andrew Wells has practiced at both linebacker and running back.

Brothers Wilbur and Solo Turgeon have transferred to Kaiserslautern after playing multiple sports last year at Baumholder High. Both will likely be starters in Kaiserslautern’s set-up this fall and as a new head coach, Allen said a main priority for building the Raiders into a competitive unit will be the establishment of depth at all positions.

“We want to develop a lot of our younger players and we’ve got some good speed at different spots already,” Allen said. “We’ve got some great attitudes and the kids seem to be people who are willing to work hard. They are starting to come together and take care of one another.

Kaiserslautern seniors Corey Coombs and Solo Turgeon will be counted on for a lot in the Raiders’ scheme this season.

all of Division 3 will play 6-man football

  • Sept. 22 at Brussels
  • Sept. 29 vs. Hohenfels (HC)
  • Oct. 12 at AFNorth
  • Oct. 20 vs. Ansbach
  • Nov. 3 Europeans championship

Baumholder and scattered other DODEA schools are feeling the pinch of limited available players so DODEA has been designated with four other schools this season for a 6-man football league play division. The new Division III lineup will include Baumholder, Ansbach, Hohenfels, AFNorth, and Brussels.

“This move was based on populations at schools and us simply wanting our student athletes to be able to play in a safe environment,” said DODEA athletics director Kathlene Clemmons. “It would have been a difficult situation if these schools and our various coaches had not been willing to make the change. Populations change from year to year and it’s something we will continue to look at and evaluate each new year.”

Head coach Phil Loyd enters his third season at Baumholder and said there is still a lot of enthusiasm for the coming campaign. His staff and players spent several days in the summer heat preparing for the new schedule.

“We are excited to play and we have some talented kids who are giving their all during the preseason workouts,” said Loyd, a retired Marine who has coached and taught for about 30 years. “It’s going to be up to the kids to answer the challenge of six-man, after last year playing 11-man and posting a positive 4-2 season.”

Baumholder has fewer numbers this season but still a lot of potential.

The 6-man rules are basically the same, but scores tend to be higher than 11-man football and each player takes on additional responsibilities. All players will be eligible to block as well as catch passes and advance the football.

“It’s a good thing that DODEA decided to move to 6-man football this season because if we didn’t meet the threshold for 11-man, they could have just elected to not let us field a team at all,” said Loyd, who also teaches history and computer apps classes at Baumholder. “The style of play this year is going to be very engaging as we try to keep players off the quarterback then also turn to catch passes. Players who’ve never caught balls or run with it will get the chance this year. Everyone will be learning routes and getting familiar with the various, slight rules changes.”

The largest player on the BHS roster is a transfer student, Quentin Murphy, who moved from the States this summer and has played the game at a high level before. Murphy is a senior and there is a nucleus of talent that gets its first test against Brussels in two weeks.

Jeremiah Christopher was a second-team all-conference player last season and heads into his senior year with promise. Freshman Larry D. Wesley III has stepped up with positive workouts this summer, too.

Sam Bankston impressed coaches this summer with a lot of individual integrity as he worked to get in shape and hone his game. He is a sophomore, as is receiver Jacob Gregg, and Loyd plus his staff of four assistants have been preaching accountability to the small roster of players.

“All of them have to step up if we expect to be successful,” Loyd said. “We’ve got a season and we’ve got a shot at a championship, so the same goals are there for us that would have been there if we were playing 11-man football. Once the games start, a lot of it will not have really changed.”