Senior linebacker and right tackle Detlef Laughery can’t wait to see the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Senior defensive end and left tackle Drake Morey is looking forward to hanging out with his host family.
And Ashland High School head football coach Beau Lehnerz just wants to see the looks on his players’ faces as they take in the sights and sounds leading up to Pacific Rim Bowl XV. Especially Hiroshima.
“They hear about it, they see it in books and things like that,” Lehnerz said. “But to actually be there where it happened and to see them take everything in …and when you talk to them afterwards as well, they have the most thoughtful things to say. It’s just really humbling. Unbelievable where we’re at and what happened at that spot.
“There are lots of fun things going on outside of that, but that thing is the one that makes you realize the big picture.”
The little picture includes the football game itself, a biennial showdown at alternating sites that pits a team of Japanese all stars against the Ashland High varsity team. This year’s Pacific Rim Bowl will be held July 28 at 4:30 p.m. local time — or, if you’re in the Pacific Time Zone, 1:30 a.m. on July 29 — at Oji Stadium in Kobe, Japan.
The Grizzlies have been practicing at Walter A. Phillips Field since Monday and put in their last two-hour session here Friday before the 41 players and 10 coaches and staff members going to Japan turn their attention to preparing for the long journey ahead. All will return to Phillips Field today for a final “military style” equipment check, and early Sunday morning it’s off to Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport, from which the Grizzlies will be departing in two shifts — the first group is scheduled to lift off at 5 a.m. and the second at 6:47 a.m.
If all goes well, the team will arrive at Kansai International at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
Lehnerz, who was promoted from assistant coach on April 21, said he’ll feel better when the team touches down in Japan, but he said there’s still a few loose ends to tie before arrival.
“I’d say everything is, for the most part, organized,” he said after Thursday's practice. “There’s the smaller things, as far as packing gifts and stuff for everybody. …There’s a lot of fine details besides football — passports, money, tickets. We’ve got a phone tree for everybody to call. There’s no time to run around on Sunday."
There was plenty of run-around time, Thursday, however, as the Grizzlies engaged in a ritual unique in Oregon to Ashland every other year — full-team football practices in late July.
The Grizzlies did run through some special teams drills last week, but Monday marked the first chance for the coaches to put all the pieces together. Thursday’s two-and-a-half-hour get-together looked like a typical fall football practice, as players broke up into groups to work on position skills before getting back together for some 11-on-11 scrimmaging.
Once together, even with a mostly new cast of players, the Grizzlies morphed into something familiar, if not mid-season sharp, to anybody who's watched the team play under former head coach Charlie Hall. Setting up in a four-receiver set with one man in the backfield on one play, quarterback Cade Swenson took the snap and fired a quick-out to a slot receiver, who turned upfield. Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” blared over the loudspeakers as coaches jumped in with corrections and players, clapping encouragement, filtered in and out in a continuous revolving door.
“It’s a little bit just getting off the rust and kind of getting back into the rhythm, and getting in sync with your brothers,” Laughery said. “And then once we get over there we start turning it up, start actually hitting.
“I feel prepared personally, and I think we’ve got a lot of guys in here who are putting sweat in the bucket and getting a lot of reps and experience. I feel like we’ve got a lot of good, experienced veterans and then we’ve got a lot of talent and young guys, so I feel good about it.”
Morey likes the mix of experience and talent, too, and indicated that for those players still working up to game speed, that last gear will likely be discovered once they start tackling each other for real next week in Japan.
“I just don’t think it’s hit us yet,” he said. “I think we’re just trying to get everybody ready because we have really good veteran, experienced linemen coming in. We have a lot of talent in the lower, freshmen-sophomore grades. We just need experience. We’re trying to get all of them ready and we’re all just trying to get focused up and I think when we actually get on the plane at 5 it’s going to hit us — and we’re going to say we have five days of practice to get everything in sync.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.