Every time a school drops in classification, there’s a thought that it should dominate athletically. When a school moves up, there’s a thought it should struggle, as if school size has everything to do with it.
On some level, that thought is correct. In basketball, that might make sense. So too in baseball, or any other sport where the game doesn’t change.
But making that jump in football, particularly from 2A to 1A, takes a lot more than just sheer numbers. It takes preparation and forward thinking.
It’s not always easy and it doesn’t always come on Day 1. But there’s recent history, too.
Three of the four teams in the previous two enrollment cycles to drop from 11-man to 8-man — Grace in 2010, Kamiah and Butte County in 2012 — reached the state championship game in their first year of 8-man play.
There was good reason for each: Grace had the “aha” moment, collectively, midseason, while Kamiah and Butte County were solid 2A programs that were stocked with athletes.
Valley, Oakley and Glenns Ferry all have reason to believe it could be the next team to make the leap. For Oakley it would be nothing new; the Hornets contended in the 1A-I ranks with two titles and four trophies from 2007-2010, before spending two years in the 11-man ranks.
The Vikings and Pilots, though, are getting their first taste of 8-man football. I saw Valley in a scrimmage last week, and it looked like I would expect a team to look while basically redoing everything.
But the groundwork is there. The coaching staff knows what to expect and how to deal with it.
Here are the three key things Valley, Glenns Ferry, and other programs need to figure out to successfully transition between 11-man and 8-man ball.
Blocking Schemes: Guards are now, in essence, tackles, and are responsible for the edge on the offensive line. Before they had some wiggle room with another guy outside, but not anymore. That adjustment is perhaps the single-biggest offensive tweak needed to have a successful scoring punch.
(No) Man in the Middle: 8-man football creates a conundrum about what to do defensively. An even number creates problems that an odd number wouldn’t — namely, what to do with a middle linebacker, or whether to have one at all. You can run a 3-3-2 defense, but then you potentially give up those edge plays and can get beaten to death with three yards and a cloud of dust. If you go 4-2-2, there’s nobody to patrol the middle of the field. 5-1-2 and you have a middle linebacker, but you’re in trouble if the first man to the ball doesn’t make the tackle. You see the dilemma? Figure this out and you’re in good shape.
Space Race: The primary object in 8-man football, particularly because it’s not played on a smaller field in Idaho, is to get the ball to your athletes in open space, and occasionally they’ll break a tackle and be off to the races. On the flip side, your job defensively is to limit that space. Figure out the key to that, and you’ll have no shortage of coaches asking to pick your brain. The ones that maximize the spacing game offensively and limit it defensively are the ones who have an inside track on adjusting to the 8-man game.