When Mountain Valley High School made the decision to move from 11-man football to eight-man football nearly four years ago, it was in the name of survival of the program. Now that the Falcons are trending in the direction of thriving, the school has put the gears in motion to move back to traditional 11-man football.

Mountain Valley Athletic Director Jeff Pelletier said a request to move back to 11-man football has been sent to the Maine Principals’ Association. The request was due by Dec. 1, and Pelletier said he expects to hear back in the next month or two, before football schedules are released around March.

“So the MPA, or the football committee, had sent out a form to all schools just asking where you are this year, what’s your preference for next year, type of form,” Pelletier said. “That’s where we requested to go back to 11-man.”

Pelletier said the MPA’s football committee will have first say in whether to grant Mountain Valley’s request to move back to 11-man football.

Pelletier also announced the request on the Mountain Valley Athletics Facebook page over the weekend, citing participation numbers dipping into the low 20s as the reason to decide to switch to eight-man in 2020. After the 2020 tackle football season was wiped out by the pandemic, the Falcons played their first season of eight-man football in 2021.

“It was not an easy decision to make in a community with such a rich football history, but it was a necessary one,” Pelletier said in the post. “This past season, thanks in large part to a big group of freshmen, our roster climbed back up to the mid 30s.”


Mountain Valley coach Patrick Mooney said he was proud to have Pelletier leading the Falcons’ direction back to this point.

“I think we’re doing it the right way,” Mooney said. “We went down, we did our time, we rebuilt our numbers, and now we feel like we’re good to go.”

Kaden Paaso of Mountain Valley High School runs behind his blocker, Jyrrmal Yates, during a Sept. 22 game in Rumford against Camden Hills Regional High School. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Mooney, who is also a program alum, has been the Falcons coach for five years overall, across two stints. He first coached from 2016-2018, before moving to Mt. Blue during declining participation at Mountain Valley. He came back to Mountain Valley for the 2022 season — The Falcons’ second playing eight-man football — and has coached since.

“For years, Mountain Valley was pretty much a traditional powerhouse in Class B, going back to when I graduated there, however long it’s been now — 18 years, I guess,” said Mooney, a 2004 Mountain Valley graduate. “So, yeah, it’s been something that we’ve just always done — we were always a really good football team.”

Mooney said with Rumford being a mill town, it fell on hard times like so many others in the area. This affected school enrollment numbers, which in turn dominoed into sports participation. Mooney said other sports at Mountain Valley were affected, but football was definitely hit the hardest.

“Twenty years ago, there were 60 or more players on the team,” Mooney said. “Then that dropped down to 40, and then suddenly, we’re at 22 or 23. So (eight-man) was a move that the administration felt we had to make at that time, and rightfully so.”


While Mooney said he’s glad Mountain Valley was able to keep its program alive through the eight-man classification, he views eight-man as a “rehabilitation for programs that are struggling,” and not a way to secure more wins with less competition.

“I think right now, we’re in a bit of a dilemma, because we have a lot of teams who can exist, but are worried they may have a down year, so they use eight-man football as kind of an out,” Mooney said. “That’s not what it’s for.

“Once you feel like you’d have your feet underneath you, it’s time to go back up to where you were,” Mooney said. “We just felt like if we could crack that 30-plus player threshold consistently, or prove that we could sustain that long term, it was time to go back to where we feel like we should be.”

While eight-man football has helped schools like Mountain Valley to sustain a program with a smaller roster, it also changes coaching and playing styles compared to traditional 11-man football.

“The rules are a little bit different,” Mooney said. “It’s still football, and I think there’s a misconception that it’s like flag football, or two-hand touch or that it’s softer in some way, it’s not. We just condensed the field, the width is shorter, and you have three less players on the side of the ball. You’re still playing, but you have to really change your schemes, depending on what you run.”

Mooney said the offensive style did not change much from 11-man to eight-man, but defensively, if a team traditionally prefers running zone coverage, they’re “going to have a bad time in eight-man,” as it doesn’t allow coaches to run traditional zone coverage style plays.


“Defense is really difficult because you’re asking kids to do multiple jobs where normally they wouldn’t have to, especially when you’re really specific in your scheme, and you need certain athletes in certain places,” Mooney said. “I know on defense (in eight-man), depending on what we saw for an offense, we may ask our defensive end to line up on the line and be a cornerback in coverage, which is really difficult to do. Traditionally, that’s not something you would ask of a defensive end. So for eight-man, you really have to have athletes on the field, because you’re asking them to wear multiple hats at the same time when it comes to responsibility.”

Another challenge has been the distance the team travels to play. For example, on Sept. 1, the Falcons drove 156 miles to Mt. Desert Island in Bar Harbor to play, losing 36-26.

“I’ve never been to Bar Harbor in my life, so that was kind of interesting,” Mooney said. “That is one thing I’m looking forward to, hopefully, by going back up to (11-player) is we can play more of our traditional rivals — guys that I’ve coached with or against for years. We all know each other pretty well, and it’s definitely more within my comfort zone.”

Pelletier and Mooney both said they expect to hear back from the MPA in the next few months, and Mooney said the only possible grounds for denial, he thinks, could be because the MPA is in the middle of a reclassification cycle, set to take effect in the 2025 season.

“I think the fact that we haven’t completed that cycle yet might be the major reservation they have if they don’t allow us to go through it,” Mooney said. “They may say, just wait another year and then when the cycle is complete, we’ll reevaluate then. I don’t think that’s going to happen based on what I’ve heard, but I would say there’s a small possibility of it.”

The Falcons’ junior varsity team also got to play three 11-man games during the 2023 season, and proved there is interest in moving back. Despite what happens, Mooney said he is encouraged looking to the 2024 season because of the Falcons’ culture.

“The players in our locker room are really dedicated and really great people, as well as athletes,” Mooney said. “I’m encouraged as a coach. We didn’t graduate anybody off of our offensive line last year, so most of those kids have been starting since they were a sophomore.”

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