Gray-New Gloucester High School football coach Brian Jahna uses quarterback Mikey Ryan for a demonstration during a drill at the high school in Gray on Thursday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories on eight-man football’s introduction to Maine. Part three will examine more of the facts and myths about the game.

Sometimes, Danny Stash imagines what playing eight-man football will be like and dreams of rolling up points on the scoreboard like an odometer.

“I think defense is going to be a lot harder,” Stash said. “With a lot more open space, I think speed is going to be a big factor. And I think we’re going to see a lot more high-scoring games.”

Keep in mind that Stash, an upcoming senior at Gray-New Gloucester, is a quarterback, which means he could be playing eight-on-eight, 11-on-11 or one-on-one football and he’d be dreaming of lighting up scoreboards.

Gray-New Gloucester coach Brian Jahna wants his QB to think big when it comes to scoring, but cautions, or in the case of defensive purists reassures, players and fans that defense will still matter in eight-man football.

“I think some folks have it confused with arena football, and it’s not that,” Jahna said.

Eight-man games are typically higher scoring than 11-man but not quite as dramatically as the gap between, say, Arena and NFL football.

For example, in the playoffs in Kansas, Montana and Oklahoma, three of at least 30 states with eight-man high school teams last year, it wasn’t unusual last season for playoff games to top 100 combined points, and all of the state championship winners scored at least 50 points to win the title.

In Maine, one team, Wells in Class D, scored 55 in the state final, but in two other games, the winner scored 49. Only one playoff game, the uncharacteristically prolific 77-36 Class D North semifinal between Bucksport and Mattanawcook, topped the century mark.

“Everyone thinks it’s going to be 68-60,” Old Orchard Beach coach Dean Plante said. “There may be a game or two like that, but there’s going to be some defense played.”

Supporters of eight-man football say purists may not adapt to more scoring, but they will appreciate that the game’s fundamentals remain the same. The dynamics are just a little different.

John Bapst coach Dan O’Connell researched eight-man football when his school, like all others in the state, received a Maine Principals’ Association survey last year gauging interest in eight-man football. His program’s strong numbers made staying in 11-man preferable for now, but O’Connell, who is also the coaches’ liaison to the MPA’s football committee, said “You still have to block and tackle. The instincts and the basics of the game are the same.”

“Guys are going to have to block and tackle and catch the ball. If they can’t do that, we’re not going to be very successful,” Jahna said.

With blocking and tackling still big points of emphasis, coaches expect eight-man to maintain a physical brand of football.

“If fans are coming expecting to see something other than football, they’re going to be shocked, because they’ve still got some great athletes with 10-yard head starts. It’s still a collision sport,” Plante said. “To me, the thing that is going to surprise people is how similar it is to 11, especially when you reduce the width of the field.”

While some states shorten the field for eight-man football, Maine’s gridiron will remain 100 yards long but will be 10 yards narrower (43 1/3 feet) than an National Federation of High School regulation 11-man field.

Ball-carriers with the quickness and agility to turn on a dime might have an advantage, especially before defenders learn to use the closer sideline as an extra defender.

“I think it will take some getting used to,” Stash said. “I think more running backs will have to get accustomed to cutting upfield, knowing the sideline won’t run forever.”

Teams that like to run forever still have a place in eight-man football. Teams can play a wide-open style, just like in 11-man football, but they can also play traditional run-oriented football, even with three linemen instead of the more familiar five.

Jahna watched “tons of film” on eight-man football in the Midwest and saw plenty of power-running teams.

“If you look at what high schools are doing in eight-man football, a lot of it is fullhouse (backfields), a lot of it is running between the guards instead of the tackles,” Jahna said. “It’s hard, physical football.”

Any self-respecting quarterback will lobby his coach to fire away, though, because they have three less defenders, including one less safety, to worry about reading when they drop back to pass.

“The reads are definitely going to be a lot easier just because you can focus on one guy and pinpoint what his first reaction is and then make a play off of it,” Stash said.

Jahna believes offenses will be able to stick with what they do best, regardless of style but coaches will have to adapt their defensive schemes more to eight-man. When Gray-New Gloucester played in a series of six-on-six scrimmages with other eight-man teams this summer, he kept a close eye on defensive dynamics.

“Most of our time has been spent on trying to figure out what to do defensively,” Jahna said. “I think some of it we’re going to figure out really where the holes are once we pad-up and get going. That’s when it’s going to show itself.”

“The concepts really don’t change a whole lot,” Jahna said. “Some of the space changes. You have to look at zones a little bit differently. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to be out here doing this, mostly to see our defense and how do our zones change and how do our coverages change. But I don’t think it’s a crash course because I don’t think it changes that much.”

Eight-man football may be closer to regular 11-man football than arena football or flag football, but coaches and players agree that bad fundamentals and technique are more likely to be exposed, especially on defense.

“I think so, because you can’t hide,” Jahna said. “You’re out there on the field and there’s no one that’s going to pick up for you. You’ve got to do your job or else you’re going to get beat badly.”

“That’s the thing (coaches) have talked about,” Jahna said. “The schematics don’t change that much, but boy, we better be good at teaching technique.”

Gray-New Gloucester High School quarterback Danny Stash hands off to running back Jeremiah Pye during practice at the high school in Gray on Thursday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Gray-New Gloucester High School football coach Brian Jahna conducts practice at the high school in Gray on Thursday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal


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