It's football in July

A low snap causes the football to skip off the grass and into the hands of Ashland High punter Sam Gaviglio, who bobbles it a split-second too long, effectively killing the drill. Whistles blow, and Grizzly head coach Charlie Hall's voice can be heard above all others.

"Are you a receiver?" he fumes.

Gaviglio nods.

"Did it hit you in the hands?"

Another nod.

Normally, a punting gaffe in July is hardly worth an eye-roll, but this is not a typical, no-pads summer camp for the Grizzlies. They were in full gear for all of Tuesday's practice, burning through a two-hour hit-fest that served as one of the team's last opportunities to prepare for Friday's 10th Pacific Rim Bowl. Ashland and the Japan all-stars, a group of 45 players handpicked from more than 200 who tried out, face off at Walter A. Phillips Field at 7:30 p.m.

Japan, which practiced on Phillips Field on Tuesday while Ashland used the adjacent practice field, will be looking for its fourth straight PRB win following its 26-6 trouncing of the Grizzlies in the last meeting two years ago. But pride aside, the game will mostly serve as a glorified scrimmage for the Grizzlies, who don't play a real game until Henley comes to town Aug. 31.

"To be honest, for us this is a camp experience," Hall said. "Because of the time of the year that it's at, we really can't say, 'Hey, our season starts now,' because we could really get excited and spike it high emotionally, and then it's a long ways until we play another game. I'm really guarded about that."

Instead, Hall views the game as a full-scale "dress rehearsal," with a few perks thrown in, namely fans, stadium lights, a scoreboard, the scent of burnt popcorn, etc.

"Our team has gone through sideline conduct and all the logistics of going through a game &

the mental approach of pregame preparation," Hall said. "It gives us a huge advantage. I really think that helped us in 2005."

Of course, this week is about more than just football, for both Ashland and its Japanese counterparts. After the teams break practice at 10:30 a.m. each day, the pads come off and coaches and players alike resume the educational portion of the exchange. The Japan players have two day trips planned for this week &

today it's Crater Lake, Thursday it's off to the Rogue River for a Hellgate boat ride &

and afterward the all-stars return to their host families.

The immersion for Japan began after the team arrived in the Rogue Valley on Sunday. The teams met that afternoon for a barbecue at Emigrant Lake. On Monday, Japan's taste of American life included an American Legion baseball doubleheader between Ashland and Grants Pass. Tuesday night, Ashland hosted a passing league and lineman challenge, inviting several local schools, including Crater, Phoenix, Cascade Christian and both Medford schools.

For Ashland wide receiver Charlie Sebrell, whose family is hosting two all-stars, Masahiro Matsuda and Kosuke Fujii, the experience has been "awesome."

"The first day it was kind of hard to break the ice," Sebrell said, "but now they'll come up to us and talk to us: 'Today, can we do this,' playing video games, kind of getting in our face when they score touchdowns."

As for the real-life football game, Hall sounded confident in his team's readiness to hit at game speed, thanks in part to a full-contact scrimmage last Friday and to the Grizzlies' experience at key positions.

During one drill Tuesday, an Ashland player found himself out of position to make a play, prompting Hall to correct the player before asking, "Do you want to be the hammer or do you want to be the nail?"

Friday, Hall expects the answer to that question to be a moot point.

"We've got a fairly veteran group, especially in the secondary and linebackers, that played quite a bit last year," Hall said. "I'm not worried about the hitting. It's about the execution. It just takes so much time to put together. That's my biggest concern &

whether it's turnovers, offsides, alignment mistakes that are going to cost us on defense those are the things that are going to break down when it's early.

"We've got some talented kids, and if we have some good things happen for us and we don't shoot ourselves in the foot, we certainly have a chance."

Sports Editor can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 224 or joe..

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