By Don Nelson
A lot of Methow Valley fans are curious about eight-man football as the Liberty Bell High School varsity team begins its first season in a new league with a new look.
Coach Steve White is one of them.
“I’m eager to see what it’s going to look like,” White said this week as the Mountain Lions finally got in some outdoor practices in preparation for their first game on Saturday (Sept. 5) at Northport. Except for one day, the team had been limited to indoor practice because of potentially hazardous air conditions.
White said he expects the eight-man game to be faster and thus require excellent conditioning.
“The biggest challenge is the speed of the game,” the coach said. “It’s a full-size field. That’s a lot of ground to cover.”
In some states, eight-man football is played on a smaller field. Washington high schools play on the same 100-yard gridiron like everyone else. Eight-man games can be very high scoring, as teams take advantage of all that room to maneuver with fewer players.
White has 19 players on the roster, which looks a lot more accommodating to eight-man play than 11-man. Last year, the Mountain Lions ended the season with just 14 players suited up.
More than half the current squad is made up of sophomores or younger, White said. But he said the team has good size, speed and height. “We’re pretty well situated for eight-man,” he said.
Asked if most players would see time on both offense and defense, White said, “I guarantee you, everybody on the team will be playing a lot.”
Safety remains a concern with younger players who are less experienced, White said.
Long bus rides
The first game, originally scheduled for Friday, was moved back to Saturday to give the Mountain Lions a little more practice time, White said.
Still, it’s a four- to five-hour bus ride for a 7 p.m. game, through a lot of territory that has been scorched by the Okanogan Complex Fire. Northport is a few miles south of the Canada border in the far northeast corner of the state. It’ll be the longest trip the team takes this year, but many of the away games will also require long rides. Other teams in the league include Pateros, Waterville, Wellpinit, Colville, Yakama Nation and Inchileum.
White said Monday (Aug. 31) that he wasn’t sure yet whether the team would return to the Methow Valley after Saturday’s game, or stay overnight.
The Mountain Lions then have a bye before hosting Inchileum on Sept. 18 — the first time the Liberty Bell eight will take the home field.
The school district announced in August that the Mountain Lions would switch to eight-man play this year because of player and parent concerns about safety and competitiveness.
Methow Valley Superintendent Tom Venable and Activities Director Chase Rost have both said that playing eight-man football could help the school rebuild for a return to the 11-man game. Venable said the district’s decision will be reviewed after this season.
Junior high football will remain in the 11-man format for the 2015-16 season.