HOLGATE — With dwindling numbers heading into the 2019 season, Holgate has elected to play eight-man football for the upcoming gridiron campaign and eschew their scheduled 10-game slate for 2019.
Though low numbers have become somewhat of the norm in the program over the last couple decades, a likely roster of 13 players entering the first official fall practice next Thursday was too much to ignore and enter the varsity slate with, according to Holgate athletic director Rich Finley.
“With how small our school is, this is not uncommon for us to be watching our numbers heading into football season or any other season for that matter,” admitted Finley. “Early on, we looked at our numbers and they looked pretty good in the 20s. It’s not a great number to be super competitive but for our school, that’s usually pretty good.
“Over the course of the summer, we were losing kids. I’m not sure the reason why, but there’s probably a number of different reasons why they decided not to come out.”
Holgate notified the Green Meadows Conference and their season opponents Wednesday of the decision.
Holgate earned wins over Stryker, Waynesfield-Goshen and Ayersville last season, while competing well against Hilltop (6-2 loss) and Tinora (21-6 loss) a year ago, the program’s most since finishing 3-7 in 2014.
“Last week we had 17 players and had still planned on going 11-man,” explained second-year Holgate head coach Colton Wagner, himself an 2008 Tiger grad. “We had a couple guys back out and elect not to play. I let Rich know and we worked to figure out a plan. We recruited every boy in the school and some girls as well and we just couldn’t get that interest.”
“We were saying to ourselves, we didn’t want to have to take 13, 14, 15 kids out there,” added Finley. “You get a couple injuries, you run the risk of forfeiting or cancelling games. That didn’t set us up for success. Football has been at Holgate since the late 1970s and there’s a fan base here that loves football. As athletic director, I need to provide every opportunity for kids to participate.
“We knew 11-man football probably wasn’t going to be suited for us.”
Though eight-man football has not caught on in Ohio, a pair of schools in the state have announced eight-man schedules over the past couple weeks. Both Toledo Christian and Zanesville Bishop Rosecrans have elected to go with eight-man football for the 2019 season due to the numbers crunch.
For Toledo Christian, the situation mirrors what Holgate is going through. Both schools will not play their scheduled conference opponents this fall. Holgate’s non-conference schedule of Stryker, Waynesfield-Goshen and Hilltop will not be played as well, though Stryker has agreed to play their TAAC opponents from Toledo Christian on their scheduled date (Oct. 11) as an eight-man game, serving as a bye week for OHSAA points purposes on Stryker’s schedule.
“Toledo Christian opened up some opportunities and it let us know that we’d have at least some kind of schedule and the kids would get a chance to play under the lights on Friday nights,” explained Wagner.
The Holgate-Stryker contest may be played as an eight-man contest on Aug. 30 but nothing has been officially established as of yet.
“Obviously the more teams involved, the easier it is to build a schedule,” said Finley. “With Toledo Christian and Rosecrans, that’s definitely opened the door. It’s potentially going to be more sustainable for us. Right now we’re only looking at this year.”
Added Finley: “If we have Stryker, we have six guaranteed games and a possible seventh game. That’s all come together within the last 36 hours. I’ve heard a few others who are in the same boat right now that might be entering the pool. Sandusky St. Marys is one, though I don’t want to speak for them.”
According to Finley, Toledo Christian and Rosecrans are both on the schedule for this year and next season as a home-and-home. A few schools from Michigan and a school from Indiana are both likely as opponents as well.
Eight-man and 11-man football are extremely similar, the main change is the elimination of the traditional tackle positions on each side of the line. Five players are required to be on the line of scrimmage at all times. Traditionally, teams will place two guards on each side of the center and two players spread out from there with a quarterback and two backs or receivers off the line.
In Michigan’s adoption of 8-man football, teams use the traditional 100-yard length regulation field but reduce the field to 40 yards wide.
Michigan will have over 70 schools playing 8-man football this fall and have had a separate state tournament for 8-man teams since 2011.
“I’m looking things up as well, seeing how other teams in other states have done it but also trying to incorporate what we already do into that format,” explained Wagner. “As far as offense, we’re going to try and keep things similar. Once we get a scrimmage or two in, I’m sure there will be some tweaks and a learning process throughout the season.”