Onekama makes the switch to 8-player football

 

Onekama running back Jacob Mauntler (22) will have fewer tacklers to worry about in his senior year, after the Portagers switch to 8-player football next season. (Brian Fogg/News Advocate)

Onekama running back Jacob Mauntler (22) will have fewer tacklers to worry about in his senior year, after the Portagers switch to 8-player football next season. (Brian Fogg/News Advocate)

ONEKAMA — Onekama football has followed the lead of county rivals Manistee Catholic Central and Brethren in adopting 8-player football beginning next season.

The Onekama school board voted unanimously to make the switch at its regular board meeting Monday night.

Onekama superintendent Kevin Hughes said that going to the 8-player game was not a matter of if, but when the Portagers would make the change.

According to the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA), the 2016 football season was the first during which the number of Class D high schools sponsoring 8-player teams exceeded the number of Class D schools sponsoring 11-player teams: 48 playing 8-player football; 40 playing the 11-player game.

“It’s like a train moving out of the station,” Hughes said during the meeting. “Class-D 11-man football is falling off the map.”

Portagers athletic director Nathan Bradford said that the decision came up only within the past few weeks, spurred on by three of the teams on the 2016 schedule opting to go the 8-player route, Suttons Bay, Mesick and Central Lake.

“It was hard finding games this year, we had to go all the way up to Hillman,” Bradford said. “Going forward, I’ve had conversations at league meetings about the rush of teams going 8-man.”

Bradford said that he will notify the Northern Michigan Football Conference today that Onekama will no longer compete as a member.

Another factor in the timing of the switch is the hiring of a new head football coach. Longtime Onekama head coach Jim Hunter retired after this past season, and said that it would not be fair to his successor to switch after his hiring.

“This is not just a different offense, it’s a much different game,” Hunter said. “Whoever does come in, hopefully he’s done a little bit of 8-man, so that’s a hurdle you don’t have to go over.”

Hunter said that switching to 8-player football is ultimately a safety issue, especially when playing against teams with bigger rosters, as Onekama would do more and more going forward.

“It’s a whole lot different when you have eight players on the field and eight guys on the sidelines, than when you have 11 players on the field and four guys on the sidelines,” he said. “Those kids don’t get a break, and even if you just get the wind knocked out of you and have to come off for a few minutes, you don’t want to be in that position.”

One potentially contentious issue that was not resolved was the status of the longtime co-op arrangement with Bear Lake, one that is complicated by MHSAA rules regarding the 8-player playoffs. As it stands right now, an Onekama-Bear Lake co-op team would be ineligible for postseason play in 8-player football.

While any school can field an 8-player team, only those classified as Class D may participate the MHSAA state championship playoffs. Those teams with co-op arrangements must use the total enrollment of both schools to determine in which MHSAA class the team competes.

This year, the upper limit for Class D was 206 students. With Onekema’s enrollment of 150 added to Bear Lake’s 104, playoff football would be out of reach for the co-op team.

That decision will wait until the MHSAA’s deadline of April 15. The MHSAA uses the fourth-Friday count in February to determine its enrollment numbers for the following year, and Hughes expressed the hope that the numbers would allow the co-op to continue.

Further complicating matters is the MHSAA rule that requires a discontinued co-op program to wait two full school years before reuniting.

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Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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