St. Edmond to test 8-player football waters
School confirms the switch for at least the '21 and '22 seasons
The St. Edmond football program will be heading in a different direction this fall — one filled with intrigue and opportunity.
Activities director Zach Steinhoff and Gael head football coach Matt Dillon confirmed on Friday that the school has been designated an eight-player program by the Iowa High School Athletic Association for the 2021 and ’22 seasons.
Unofficially, the Class A football cutoff line stands at 136 students in grades 9-11 (Basic Educational Data Survey, or BEDS, enrollment used for classification). St. Edmond is projected to have 120 students in grades 9-11 this coming fall.
“We’ve been really close to that (eight-player) line for a while,” said Dillon, who recently completed his third year at the helm. “When we finally reached that (cutoff) number, we had a choice to make. We made this decision with both the competitiveness and safety of the program in mind.”
Schools do have the option of playing up a class, meaning St. Edmond could have applied to retain its Class A status and remain at the 11-player level despite being below the required threshold.
“By our count, we’re going to have 33 total kids in our program for (grades 9-12 in the fall of 2021),” Dillon said. “But with only 16 upperclassmen (10 seniors and six juniors), it’s become increasingly difficult to compete with those Class A schools at the varsity level, week after week, all season long.
“From a physicality and depth standpoint, in football, you have no margin for error with just 16 juniors and seniors. They would hardly ever come off the field. It just makes more sense to try this and see where it takes us. This isn’t (a setback) at all. It’s a way to ensure the health of our program moving forward.”
Steinhoff confirmed this is a trial run of sorts for the 2021 and ’22 teams. The status of the school from an enrollment perspective will be revisited after the two seasons have been completed, along with a reevaluation of the program’s overall health.
“It is a two-year commitment, and at the conclusion of the two years, we would have the opportunity to determine whether or not to continue to stay at that level or return to 11-player, which we do see as a viable option,” Steinhoff said.
The Gaels will continue to play their home games at Dodger Stadium. Temporary modifications will be made to the field on game days; the 8-player setup, which simply requires three less players on both sides of the ball, is on a field 80 yards in length and 40 yards wide, rather than the standard 100 x 53 1/3.
“Some of the specifics of how to properly mark field parameters will need to be determined at a later date, with the focus being on preserving the quality of field conditions at and integrity of Dodger Stadium,” Steinhoff said.
When a shift to the eight-player game became a possibility, Dillon began doing his homework.
“I’m excited,” Dillon said. “It’s a new and different challenge, but change is good. After 40 years of coaching, I’m energized by something like this. It’s an opportunity to learn a different style of football. But at the end of the day, there are way more similarities to (the 11-player game) than differences.
“I can’t wait to put something together, especially offensively, and see where this goes. Our defensive coordinator, Mark McDermott, was the head coach at Guthrie Center when they made the move to eight-player. So we’ll lean on him a lot as the rest of the program gets educated and makes the transition.”
Steinhoff emphasized the myriad similarities to an 11-player game, while also highlighting the benefits of the future setup.
“The game in and of itself is still the exact same. All scoring is the same and there are the same number of officials,” Steinhoff said. “Ultimately, rules are almost exactly the same with some slight variances to accommodate for the field dimensions. Essentially, the key difference is that there are two less linemen on the field at a given time.
“We collectively believe that the switch for us at this time is a major benefit to our players. When you only have a limited number of ‘varsity ready’ players, it places kids in a tough position … it requires some of them to learn or be placed in a position that they may not be best suited for, but out of necessity, they must step up and play it for the team.”
Stenihoff confirmed the school will continue to treat the situation as fluid moving forward.
“If we have the numbers for 11-player in the lower levels, we will continue to practice and play games accordingly,” Steinhoff said. “However, if the numbers we have available are not conducive to the 11-player setup, we will use an 8-player for our sub-varsity contests. Either way, the players coming up will receive the same instruction and coaching for the game of football as they would if it were 11- or 8-player.”
A total of 71 schools in Iowa are projected to compete at the eight-player level in 2021, including Messenger-area schools Newell-Fonda, Bishop Garrigan and West Bend-Mallard.
St. Edmond posted a 5-3 record last season.
(2021 and 2022)
East Sac County
South Central Calhoun
Manson Northwest Webster