By Jesse Wolfersberger: CNJ staff writer
With eight-man football starting next fall, the New Mexico Activities Association is hoping to get more schools and more players involved.
Melrose coach Dickie Roybal, who has won two six-man titles in nine, said he just hopes his quarterbacks can remember the new rules.
“The hardest part is gonna be when our QB sees an open guy but can’t throw it to him,” he laughed.
The biggest difference between eight-man and six-man, which Melrose played last year, is the offense has three linemen who are ineligible receivers.
NMAA Associate Director Mario Martinez said having linemen will give bigger players a chance to play.
“The eight-man game has a place for the linemen-type player,” Martinez said. “We hope to increase participation of players with that body type.”
Roybal said bigger players were almost useless in six-man.
“(Eight-man) gets the bigger kids involved,” he said. “The six-man game was too fast. I’ve got a freshman coming up who now might have had a chance to play on the next level (because he’s a lineman).”
Eight-man football closely resembles the full 11-man game. It is played on the same 100-yard field and follows all the same rules.
“We would rather play 11-man, but we just don’t have the kids,” the Melrose coach said. “It’s the next best alternative. I think it’s the best move (the NMAA) has made in a long time.”
Martinez said six-man football had outgrown its original intention.
“When six-man football was sanctioned in 1987, it was originally for real small schools who couldn’t play 11-man,” he said. “All of a sudden you had teams who had played 11-man, but dropped down to play six-man. The smaller schools had a lot of concern about safety issues and competition issues.”
Six-man is now limited to schools with 70 or less students, but a school can still choose to play eight-man or 11-man.
For example, current six-man champion Gateway Christian still falls in the six-man classification, but is expected to play eight-man.
Fourteen schools are scheduled to play in the eight-man division: Menaul, Mountainair, Springer-Des Moines, Animas, Magdalena, Pine Hill, Reserve, Gateway Christian, Valley Christian, Clovis Christian, Tatum, Floyd, Logan and Melrose.
Clovis Christian athletic director and head coach Greg Darden declined to comment before discussing the situation with Martinez.
Floyd athletic director and head football coach Rafael Roybal said this change was made so the smallest schools could compete.
“I think the biggest factor was the really small schools that were trying to play football with 24 total kids (in the school),” he said. “They were in a helpless position and the NMAA was trying to help them.”
Martinez said he hopes the change will bring more small schools into football.
“There is a lot of excitement,” he said. “I’ve gotten a lot of calls in my office. Ninety percent are positive, but there are always concerns about something new.”
A downside to the new format will be travel.
The six-man will have only nine teams: Evangel Christian, House, New Mexico School for the Deaf, Roy-Wagon Mound, San Jon, Corona, Hondo, Lake Arthur and Vaughn.
With less schools available to play, scheduling games close to home might not be an option. The smallest schools in New Mexico could be going on some long road trips next fall.
Martinez acknowledged that travel was an issue, but he is confident that quality games will be worth it.
“To be honest, the sport of football requires travel in the state of New Mexico,” Martinez said. “The schools themselves told us that a level playing field was more important than the travel and the cost.”
On Jan 30, the NMAA is holding a workshop for coaches in the new division. Martinez said Dennis Casey, head coach from Oklahoma eight-man state champion Morrison High School, will help the coaches with strategy.
“He’s going to bring game tapes from about five games,” Martinez said. “And we’ll hand out sample playbooks just to show the coaches what is possible.”
Portales News-Tribune staff writer Kevin Wilson contributed to this story.