HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Ohio high school opts to play eight-man football this season

St. John’s Jack Hammers leads an agility drill during the first day of football practice this week in Saybrook Township, Ohio. With just 12 players on the roster, St. John made the decision this week to play eight-man football, but is finding it tough to schedule opponents as Ohio is not one of the 30 states that sanctions eight-man football.

SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP, Ohio — St. John made the decision this week to play eight-man football for the 2019 season.

Heralds coach Scott Knisely said the roster is currently at 12 players, with the hope of reaching 15.

“At the end of the day, that was our goal,” he said. “We want to play football games, whether it’s eight-man, 10-man, 11-man, six-man. The kids want to play for their school and for each other.”

Knisely said around 10 players showed up consistently during summer workouts and drills.

“They worked hard and never complained,” he said. “They deserved the right to play as a team.”

The Heralds, a 2018 Division VII, Region 25 playoff team, are ineligible to play in the postseason this year.

“As a school and community, our first concern is our students and their safety,” St. John School President Sister Maureen Burke said. “We were projected to have around 17-20 players. We had some injuries, some decided to pursue other interests and others moved. We want football, that’s part of the fabric of high school sports.”

She added that this decision isn’t permanent.

“This is a year-by-year decision,” Burke said.

Eight-man football is sanctioned in 30 states, but Ohio is not one of them.

“The OHSAA (Ohio High School Athletic Association) looked into it two years ago,” Burke said.

She added that overall enrollment at St. John is up.

“We have around 180 students from grades 7-12 and about 70 percent are involved in sports,” Burke said.

The main differences with eight-man football is the width of the field decreases from 55 to 40 yards and five players have to be on the line of scrimmage.

“It’s a high-scoring game,” Knisely said. “The defensive side is harder. For us, offensively is not going to change. We throw the ball anyway with the spread.

“The challenge will be on defense and how are we are going to view offenses. Are they going to going to run power or go to the spread? I was talking to a coach who said the best scout team is the dry erase board. There’s a lot of adjusting on the fly. We’re preaching formation recognition.”

Knisely said practices, which started on Aug. 1, had been geared toward playing 11-man football.

Once the decision was made to play eight-man football, athletic director Nick Iarocci started contacting opponents from the schedule, offering them opportunity to continue to play St. John.

Mathews, in Week 1 at Spire, and Chalker, in Week 10 away, decided to remain on the schedule as eight-man games. Those two games won’t count toward Mathews and Chalker in the OHSAA computer standings.

Iarocci said the rest of the schedule is still being finalized, although a game at Holgate, which is playing as an eight-man school from Northwest Ohio, is confirmed for Week 2. Iarocci hasn’t pursued playing out-of-state opponents due to distance.

Iarocci said the schools were understanding of the Heralds’ situation.

“They were receptive,” he said. “The ones that wanted to play us and the ones that didn’t we continue to have relationships with. We play many of them in other sports.”

Even though St. John isn’t playing for a spot in the postseason or may not even suit up each week, school officials still want the experience to be positive for the players and community.

“We have to find other ways to create excitement,” Burke said.

Knisely reiterated that the object is to work and play hard and maintain leadership qualities every day and every week.

“That’s been our goal since Day 1,” he said. “They want to put on that Heralds jersey. Football is football. Nothing changes in what we’re trying to accomplish.”

 

Mike Greco writes for the (Ashtabula, Ohio) Star Beacon, which, like The Meadville Tribune, is owned by CNHI.

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