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8-man football on upward trend

08/22/2015, 3:00pm PDT
By John Maffei

Hope is sport will grow from 12 teams to more than 16 in the coming seasons


Gerrit Vreeken, of Calvin Christian's 8-man football team, does his part pushing the sled during practice.

Football is the king of high school sports.

Nothing compares to the enthusiasm and spirit of Friday Night Lights.

But not every school is equipped to play with the big boys.

Schools with enrollments of fewer than 200 just can't hang with Helix, Oceanside, Mission Hills and Eastlake, can't field 11-man teams without risk of injury.

"That's why we're so enthusiastic about the 8-man game," said Julian football coach Tim White.

"We had no choice but to drop down from 11-man to 8-man. The numbers just weren't there.

"So we moved to 8-man, and it has been great.

"As an 11-man team we didn't have enough players to practice properly. You can't get a good look at an opponent practicing against air.

"Now we can practice and prepare properly.

"We still have football, the kids love the game and the parents aren't quite so concerned about injuries."

There are only 12 8-man teams in San Diego County, not enough for San Diego Section Commissioner Jerry Schniepp to make it a championship sport.

The Southern Section has 52 8-man teams with championships in two divisions. The Northern Section has 15 teams in two sections playing to a championship.

The Los Angeles City Section has eight teams and a playoff.

The North Coast Section has 10 8-man teams, the Central Coast nine and the Central five. None has playoffs.

The San Francisco Section, Sac-Joaquin and Oakland do not play 8-man football.

Schniepp is bullish on the progress the 8-man game has made in San Diego and around the state..

"I'd like to see 16 teams with three or four leagues before we play for a CIF championship," Schniepp said. "But they're making strides, adding teams, so we came to a compromise."

That compromise was for the two 8-man leagues to play for the Commissioner's Cup ... kind of an intermediate step.

Calvin Christian is one of the schools that dropped from 11-man to 8-man for this season.

"Our enrollment isn't down significantly, but participation in football is," said Calvin Christian Athletic Director Bill Stout.

"We were down to 12-13 kids at the end of last season. You have to have at least 18-24 players to play 11-man. We were cutting it too close.

"We want a good healthy football experience for our kids. We want a JV program so the young guys can play and develop and not have to play on the varsity before they're physically ready.

"There seems to be a stigma about the 8-man game - it's not real football, it's rinky dink.

"We have to get past that.

"I hope our moving down is a trend. I hope some of the smaller, struggling 11-man schools follow our lead.

"And it would be nice to see some of the non-football schools, the smaller private or charter schools, start the sport."

Some of the prime prospects to add football, insiders say, are Guajome Park Academy, Liberty Charter, Chula Vista Learning, Del Lago Academy and Pacific Ridge.

"Certainly there is a cost factor in starting football," White said. "But starting an 8-man program is quite a bit less than starting 11-man.

"What we're hoping is that with 12 solid 8-man teams, Power Rankings, CIF support and a title game, the fence sitters will see this is a great game, a fun game, something players, students and parents can get behind."

San Pasqual Academy was an 11-man program for years before moving back to 8-man three years ago.

Coach Rashiid Burgo said it was a positive move on several fronts.

"We didn't have the numbers to continue playing 11-man," Burgo said. "We had 22 players sign up for football this season, and we're down to 15-17 already.

"We had our doubts when we went 8-man, but the kids love it.

"We were averaging two or three major injuries a year - concussions and the like - in 11-man. Fatigue played a huge factor in that. Our smaller kids were banging heads with much bigger kids.

"We don't have that injury factor now."

Part of that is because the game is more wide open.

Eight-man teams play the same rules as 11-man, but a new rule this season has 8-man teams playing on a 100-yard field, instead of 80. The 8-man field is only 40 yards across instead of 53 1/3 yards.

With 12 San Diego teams, travel will not be as big an issue.

San Diego teams routinely were traveling several hours each week to play teams in other sections.

"There are a lot of good teams in Southern Riverside County, but this is the first year we'll play all our games against San Diego Section teams," Burgo said.

"That is great for us.

"We'll have a championship game, and there is talk of adding 8-man to the state playoffs.

"We're starting to get some exposure. We hope that leads other schools to join us."

SAN DIEGO SECTION 8-MAN LEAGUES

Ocean League

Foothills Christian

Calvin Christian

Calvary Christian Academy

San Diego Jewish Academy

Rock Academy

Citrus League

St. Joseph Academy

Julian

Borrego Springs

San Pasqual Academy

Warner

West Shores

Oceanview Christian

Candidates to play 8-man football

Guajome Park Academy

Coleman Tech

Lutheran

Liberty Charter

King Chavez Community

Chula Vista Learning

Del Lago Academy

San Diego Academy

Vincent Memorial

Maranatha Christian

Calipatria

Mountain Empire

Escondido Charter

High Tech North County

Liberty Charter

Calexico Mission

Pacific Ridge

Sage Creek

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