I am not a purist, but I might feel a little shortchanged with eight-man football after playing and covering the 11-man version for years.

Those 11 guys meant a lot to me in a game that I started playing in Pop Warner. Huddling up with eight players would make me feel like I was missing out on something — like the three athletes who are now out of a job.

But the landscape in high school sports has changed and schools around the nation have embraced this format to preserve football, which is a good thing — if you enjoy this fast-action, contact sport.

I have heard of eight-man football — and I am not turning up my nose to a smaller version of a game that is facing downsizing to keep the sport alive at Maine high schools, which are confronting declining enrollments and competing with social media and other sports, such as soccer, that have gained a foothold.

I am not sure how it will be received at the high school level, but the three coaches I spoke with have no problem with eight-man football — knowing some schools might be forced to terminate their programs if they don’t switch to this format.

Peruse the web and you will find dozens of stories about eight-man football and the states that have adopted this version.

“I got to think of eight-man football a lot of like seven-on-seven,” Edward Little coach Dave Sterling said. “I think it would be good and has really helped our program develop over the past few years, make us competitive without the size other teams have.

“I think it would help some schools. You have seen us compete. We don’t have an offensive or defensive line that can match up — five guys on five guys. Some of those schools, it might help them a lot.

“And it has been highly successful throughout the country. Even when I was in high school, they talk about the eight-man Texas League, or nine-man league or what it was, and they have highlights on it on TV. So it has been around for decades. It is nothing new.”

Sterling pointed out that players participating on smaller teams are still being recruited for college football.

“You got some parts of the country where guys get to college and they have hardly played 11-man football,” Sterling said. “Football grew extremely fast after 2000 and so a lot of these schools didn’t have historic programs and the population drop-off that Maine is experiencing. This is an excellent option for them.”

“We have had very good numbers in Auburn and we are not as big as a community like Portland, which has struggled with dynamic social change as well as in Lewiston.”

According to Kennebec Journal sportswriter Travis Lazarczyk’s article published in November 2018: “Eight-man football is played without two interior linemen and one back found in traditional football. Fields are typically 120 feet wide instead of 160 feet, and the length can remain 100 yards or be reduced to 80. It is common to reduce the width and maintain the 100-yard distance.”

I would miss my two ends who now have to file for unemployment, but again, I would also be disappointed if the sport faded away like cinnamon doughnuts or a clam plate at Kelly’s Roast Beef on Revere Beach.

Yes, 11 is an odd number in a fierce game in which getting banged up on the weekend is a rite of passage for those who are brave enough to don a helmet and shoulder pads. For me, football was an outlet for my adolescent aggression and an opportunity to legally knock somebody to the ground without going to prison.

Mt. Blue football coach Nate Quirion got it right to the point when asked to weigh in about an eight-man venue in Maine.

“Mt. Blue will continue to play 11-man football for the foreseeable future,” Quirion said. “However, I know that eight-man football has been a legitimate alternative for programs in other states.”

Like Quirion, Winthrop football coach Dave St. Hilaire sees nothing wrong with the eight-man format, but he added that the Ramblers will continue to field 11 players.

“I wouldn’t want to go to eight-man football,” Hilaire explained. “Our program continues to generate strong numbers for Class D, especially with Monmouth and Hall-Dale involved. Eight-man football is a good idea for those schools struggling for numbers. I feel this is a short-term answer to continue playing competitive football while allowing the work at the youth levels to increase excitement and generate the interest for returning to an 11-man format, if possible.

“One of the challenges will be the playing surface as many schools have sports which share the same game field. You can’t just put goalposts at the shorter football distance in the middle of the field hockey field.”

Any team sport fosters that “we are all in this together” attitude and teaches young athletes to respect and play well with others. Football is no different, but participating in a game of tackling and pushing other people around takes a toll on the body.

Head injuries, broken bones and numerous sprains come with the job of knocking heads during the fall season.

I suffered two concussions — one playing Pop Warner and another at Norwich University, where I was recruited to play for the Cadets. Other injuries included a broken thumb and several sprains. After having my brains rocked a second time, I decided my health was more important and walked away from a sport through which I enjoyed serving in the trenches as a tackle, end and center.

Of course, there is more to this sport than smashing into the quarterback at a devastating speed.

Look, concerned parents are acutely aware of what is transpiring in the National Football League, where concussions remain a hot topic. They are taking a hard look at the game before encouraging their kid to pick up a football. There is an element of danger in any sport and athletes suffer concussions in hockey and soccer where collisions often occur.

Sterling said other sports have lost depth and that other extracurricular activities are hard-pressed for student participation.

“Look at the bands,” Sterling said. “There are no bands. No one has a band at a game or at a function. Kids are more interested in doing other things online, and there is other avenues for them.”

But some things fade away with change that is ushered in by the next generation, including 11-man football — for the moment.


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