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Grizz aims to fine-tune against Japanese

ASHLAND ' The Ashland High football team wants to win the eighth annual Pacific Rim Bowl, but it's more concerned with working out the bugs before the real season begins, first-year head coach David Coldiron says.

The game between the Grizzlies and the Japanese all-stars is at 7 tonight at Phillips Field.

It's one of several involving area prep teams tonight: North Medford visits Jesuit, Grants Pass is host to Willamette and Rogue River is at South Umpqua.

The Ashland-Japanese game culminates a weeklong activity schedule designed to teach players and coaches more about their cross-cultural counterparts.

— That's great, says Coldiron, but once the pads go on, it's still a football game.

There's a lot of sense of pride in them and it's a prideful thing for them to come to the United States, says Coldiron, and they want to be able to compete with teams here in the United States. Don't let them kid you there. If they do tryouts and they had over 170 kids show up for the tryout, and they only took 42 kids out of 170, that's pretty serious.

Coldiron added that the visitors also come equipped with the bulk of the defense from Japan's four-time national championship team, led by that squad's defensive coordinator.

So, it's for fun, but believe me, they're going to be ready to play, says Coldiron.

The Grizzlies lead the overall series, 5-2, but were ambushed 48-0 in the last meeting between the two in 2001. That game was played in Osaka, Japan, and the Japanese rode their home-field advantage to a resounding victory, thanks in part to a 183-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance by tailback Shirisomo Sukata.

Japan outgained the Grizzlies 357 yards to 194 in 2001 and held Ashland quarterbacks Cameron Voget and Bryan Clevenger to a combined 5-for-18 passing.

This time around, the Grizzlies will play on their home field in front of their home fans, but that's probably where their advantages end. They'll be playing their first game under a new coach ' the first time that has happened at Ashland in 21 years ' and are viewing the game as a sort of extended jamboree.

In other words, Coldiron says, his debut isn't really a debut at all.

Well, I understand a couple things, he says. One is that this is the first time that people from Ashland get to see what coach Coldiron is doing. I understand that, so a lot of people want to know how competitive the team's going to be and everything.

I feel the pressure from that, but having said that, I also have to keep in perspective that this is our scrimmage. There are certain things that we need to see, there are certain people we need to see on the field. There are certain plays that we need to try to get run in certain situations. There are certain things that we need to try to accomplish. But, I'm a competitor, too, so how do you balance that?

That's a good question. Coldiron answered it.

I'm just going to try and check it, he said, and try to get everything done that we can get done. We have to be ready for Pleasant Valley (next Friday's opponent), a team that beat us pretty good last year.

Coldiron's Japanese-Ashland philosophy is only reinforced by the fact that he hasn't scouted the all-stars and doesn't plan to, even though they've been practicing on Phillips Field ' adjacent to Ashland's practice field ' at the same time that the Grizzlies practice.

Victorious or not, the Grizzlies will find out a lot tonight. While Coldiron had a rough depth chart before daily doubles began two weeks ago, position battles are in full force and tonight is the first shot players have to prove themselves in a real-game situation.

Ashland is also dealing with its first bite by the injury bug. Sore ankles may keep a couple players out (though Coldiron wouldn't elaborate on who), and junior offensive guard Thomas Clinkenbeard will miss the game with a leg injury.

Clinkenbeard was slated to start for the Grizzlies, but he tweaked something during a sled-pushing drill and could be out for a while.

Lineups and injuries aside, tonight is all about polishing up.

We still look like we're in two-a-days, Coldiron said. We're better than we were last week, but we're not perfection yet. We're working toward it though. I think the kids are really aggressive.

Joe Zavala is sports editor of the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 482-3456.