8-Man High School Football Growing in Michigan
by Randy Snow
Originally posted on Yahoo! Voices, Thursday, October 20, 2011
Eight-man football is not a new version of the game, but it is new in the state of Michigan. It has been played for many years in several states, mainly out west and in Texas, at small high schools and even at some small colleges. There is also a six-man version that is played.
In 2009, the Michigan High School Athletic Association began allowing high schools to field football teams with only eight players on the field instead of the normal 11. This year, there are 21 Class D schools, which is the state's designation for high schools with the smallest enrollments, and one Class C school playing 8-man football in the state of Michigan.
The 8-man game is basically the same as the 11-man game, but with a few minor rule changes. Teams play on fields that are still 100 yards in length, but they are only 40 yards wide as opposed to the standard 53 yards. However, if both teams agree, the game can be played on a regulation football field.
A typical 8-man offensive formation consists of three down linemen and two wide receivers on the line of scrimmage, with a quarterback and two running backs/wide receivers in the backfield. There are a ton of formation variations that can be used, but there must be a minimum of five players on the line of scrimmage on every play.
One school that has been playing 8-man football since 2010 is Tekonsha High school in Tekonsha, Michigan. The tiny town with a population of around 720 is located just off of I-69 about 25 miles north of the Indiana state line. There are about 320 students in the school district and 98 students in the high school.
Tim Jenkins is the Tekonsha athletic director. It was he who made the recommendation to switch to 8-man football, but the school's Board of Education made the final approval. "We only had 16 kids on the team in 2009 when we were still playing 11-man football," Jenkins said. "One kid tore his ACL and so we were down to 15. We held our breath, but we managed to finish out the season." In one particular game, Tekonsha only dressed 13 players and one of them was only a freshman. The school has 21 players this year, all playing varsity, and their goal is to add four or five more players in the next few years so they can field both a JV and a varsity team.
While there has been no noticeable cost savings for the school or a spike in attendance at the games, Jenkins feels that the team has been more competitive on the field since the switch. "We're playing teams more our size," he said.
The narrower width of the field is hardly noticeable to the average spectator, but there are times when it is apparent that something is different about this team. "You notice the difference on kickoffs," said Jenkins, "it looks like there aren't enough players on the field, but once the offense and defense get on the field, you don't notice that much of a difference."
Joe Wright has been the head coach of the Tekonsha Indians for the past six seasons but he had no previous experience coaching 8-man football. "It's been great for us," said Wright. "(Before the switch) we were playing freshmen against seniors and that was tough. At first, most of the players were not too sure about (the switch to 8-man football), but once we started playing it, they were having a blast. It's still football."
Wright has used a web site/message board for many years called, www.coachhuey.com, where football coaches from across the country can network and share ideas. When he was looking for information on the 8-man game, he found a coach in Massachusetts that has been coaching 8-man football for over 10 years. He turned out to be a great resource of information on how to coach the 8-man game.
After going 0-9 last year, the neighboring community of Litchfield also switched to playing 8-man football this season. Tekonsha and Litchfield used to be in the same conference when they both played 11-man football and the hope is that even more small schools in Southern Michigan will make the switch to 8-man football in the coming years, thus giving them more opportunities for scheduling games as well as for some local rivalries.
There are three 8-man divisions across the state, including the Upper Peninsula. Sixteen teams will qualify for the playoffs this year and the 8-man high school football championship game will be played on Friday, November 18 at the Superior Dome on the campus of Northern Michigan University in Marquette. The game will be broadcast live, statewide, on Fox Sports-Detroit.
With shrinking enrollments at high schools across the state of Michigan, and, as word of 8-man football spreads, more Class D schools could be making the switch in the coming years. That will give Tekonsha and Litchfield more teams to put on their schedule and that, in turn, will require a lot less traveling.