YAZOO CITY, MS (WLBT) - Manchester Academy’s football program, coaches and all, totals less than 20 people.
The Mustangs are one of the MAIS’ newest 8-man football teams. Take two lineman and one skill player off the field, and play 8 against 8.
“At first, I was kind of skeptical,” says Manchester senior Blake Coghlan. “But once you get on the field, it’s not that much different. It’s still football.”
“I didn’t ever consider playing 8-man,” says Manchester senior Hayes Bardwell. “But then once we got into jamboree, played our first game and you get on the field, it really feels the same way. I couldn’t even tell the difference.”
22 MAIS teams are playing 8-man this fall, representing over a quarter of the league’s football playing schools. Some believe that number could grow into the 30’s by next year.
“All over the country, we’ve lost football players,” says Les Triplett, the director of activities for the MAIS.
Triplett’s organization leaves it up to the individual schools to determine whether they will play 8-man or 11-man football.
“A lot of them don’t have any choice,” says Triplett. “Let’s face it: if you go into a football season with 10 players, 11, 12, there’s a chance you’re not going to make it through the year.”
“You’ve got to do what’s the best interest of your school and your football program,” says Manchester head coach Bryan Dendy. “To anybody, 8-man is there for a reason. It does help schools with low numbers and we’re definitely one of those schools.”
The result of fewer players on the same size field is often a more a wide-open, fast-paced, and most of all, high-scoring game.
“I think there’s more energy out there,” says Manchester junior quarterback Upton Hitt.
Dendy also serves as Manchester’s head of school. He’s not worried about the public perception of playing 8-man.
“Anybody that wants to question it, hey, they’re entitled to their opinion,” says Dendy. “But we know our football program, we know our school, and we feel the decision we made to do this was the right decision.”
“It (8-man football) is obviously here to stay,” says Triplett. “It’s not going anywhere. And the ones who play it will tell you it’s real football.”