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Former Class A powerhouse, Cheverus, switches to eight-man football

Cheverus High School will field an eight-man football team this fall. (Courtesy: @Cheverus_Stags/Twitter)

PORTLAND, Maine (BVM) — Football in Class A is going to look a little different moving forward. Cheverus High School, a private school of roughly 400 students, is going to field an eight-man varsity football team this fall.

The program has seen a decrease in roster size recently and decided to switch things up. For the first time in recent years, the Stags will have a JV team again and hope this will allow them to build more of a feeder system into their varsity squad.

“It (JV) was definitely a main advantage,” Cheverus assistant coach John Wolfgram said. “Our goal for the eight-man program is to give us a little more depth, give us a chance to develop our young kids and find a JV program. We just felt that, with our numbers the way they’re going to be next year, that it was going to be very difficult to play a roster schedule.”

Cheverus enjoyed considerable success in Class A, winning back-to-back state championships in 2010 and 2011.

However, the Stags graduated 12 of their 31 players in 2019 putting them in a hard place for the upcoming 2020 season. With only 19 athletes returning, Cheverus decided that the eight-man football setup was their best path to continue fielding a team. Cheverus head coach Mike Vance explained their decision further, on the school’s YouTube channel.

“We’re facing a situation in the mid to high 20s [players], where safety is an issue, where mismatches are going to be inevitable and potentially running out of players, and a forfeit here or there, and that would just counter what we’re trying to do here,” Vance said.

Having a roster size that doesn’t meet a safe requirement is something that most eight-man programs have struggled with. Gray-New Gloucester coach Brian Jahna believes that there will be a point in the future where the roster size won’t be the main reason teams switch.

“The original number that we [coaches] heard were 25-30 players or less,” Jahna described. “It depends on the composition of your team. I think the new paradigm will be to consider the development of players and program not merely surviving. I see teams developing really strong programs as an eight-player team and not merely choosing between it and non-existence. I don’t think it is unreasonable to set the roster number around 40 players and provide creative and flexible scheduling options.”

When competing for state titles in Class A, the lack of depth creates too many mismatches schematically for a team to consistently compete at a high-level. Many schools in Maine have been in this situation before. The idea of fielding a shorthanded 11-man team has changed the minds of programs around the state. Most have decided it’s safer to have an eight-man football team rather than putting stress on the coaches and players to go with a more traditional roster size. Coaches don’t see much of a difference in the way the game is played either.

“It’s basically the same,” Wolfgram added. “The fundamentals are the same, the blocking, the tackling, the catching, the ball skills, things like that are the same. Schemes are a little bit different both offensively and defensively.”

“The fundamentals of football get highlighted in eight-player due to more limited support,” Jahna said. “Players do not notice a difference since their individual responsibilities and techniques remain the same. Schematically, there are only minor adjustments.”

Cheverus’ situation has put them in a different direction than most in Class A. This change may give some major credibility to the eight-man football rule set moving forward in Maine.

“Given the tradition and pedigree of the current coaching staff of Cheverus, they certainly add an additional layer of legitimacy to eight-player football,” Jahna explained. “There are also several other programs with great traditions that will be joining us this year. The ten schools that participated in the inaugural season of eight-player football in Maine did an extraordinary job of providing a positive, serious, and quality product. There is no question that eight-player football is here to stay. I believe that those who assert that eight-player is one step away from eliminating football entirely will find that the opposite is true.”

The Stags and coach Vance want fans to know that the product on the field will remain the same, “Eight-man football is the trend of today, that’s all there is to it, it’s football.”

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