Year of 8-man football was transitional for LBHS, coach says
By Don Nelson
You don’t need to double-check your math. Liberty Bell High School’s football team will field 11 players on a side when the Mountain Lions open their season by hosting the Brewster Bears at 7 p.m. on Friday (Sept. 2).
Liberty Bell is returning to 11-man football this year after a one-year sojourn into the fast and fun world of eight-man football in the 2015 season.
At least it was fun for the Mountain Lions, who put up an 8-1 record and averaged more than 53 points a game while playing a cobbled-together schedule in which they faced a couple of teams twice.
Liberty Bell enters the 2016 season — in which it will play a schedule of other 2B teams that fans will find familiar from previous years — with a bit of uncertainty about how the team will re-adjust. But head coach Steve White points to a larger roster — 25 players on the varsity, with a couple of more possible now that school has started — that features some bigger players along the front lines.
“We’re going to be competitive,” the coach said.
Big roster helps
The team includes some familiar faces from last year, White said, and a few additions. Missing will be senior Derek Alumbaugh, the Mountain Lions’ all-purpose star quarterback last year who is also a standout on the Liberty Bell baseball team and chose not to rejoin the football squad.
Jacob McMillan, a force on offense and defense for the Mountain Lions last year, has graduated, but White said he expects other players to step up in McMillan’s absence.
White said Tanner White will start at quarterback this year. White played quarterback last year, and coach White said he performed well at a summer football that nine Mountain Lion players attended. The backfield will include speedsters Enrique Whites and Seth Stevie along with Eden Davis, the coach said.
The front line will average more than 200 pounds, White added, impressive for a high school squad.
The relatively large roster will enable Liberty Bell to have full scrimmages, and though many Mountain Lions will play both offense and defense, the depth will allow for substitutions.
The coach also has some adjusting to do. This is his first year coaching 11-man football, after a successful debut in eight-man ball last year. Chad Sharp is the assistant varsity coach.
Gone from league competition this year is Okanogan, which moved up a class. On the schedule are Brewster, Oroville, Lake Roosevelt, Soap Lake, Bridgeport, Tonasket, Waterville (another school moving up from eight- to 11-man play), Manson and Orcas Island. Waterville is the homecoming opponent on Oct. 14. The site of the Orcas Island game has yet to be determined but probably will be on neutral ground somewhere between the two schools, White said.
‘Saved the program’
Although some Mountain Lion football fans and players’ parents were skeptical about eight-man football, White said the experience gave players the opportunity to know what winning feels like. And the school was in no position to field an 11-man team last year.
“It saved the [football] program,” White said of the eight-man season.
Supporters of the football program privately raised more than $4,000 to pay for Liberty Bell players to attend a football camp in La Grande, Oregon, this summer. White said that was enough money to send 13 players to camp, but only nine could make it.
The experience for them was “priceless,” White said. The Mountain Lion players faced other athletes from around the region and got a flavor for high school football played at a higher level, White said.
Practices started on Aug. 17 and the Mountain Lions saw some limited action last weekend at the Bridgeport Jamboree.
“These kids have been working hard to make this program a success,” the coach said.
White said the players also need the community’s support. The public is invited to the team’s informal Thursday night meals in the high school cafeteria at 5:30 p.m., White said.
Prompted by players
The switch to eight-man play was largely prompted by the players. After a difficult 2014 season that included a couple of forfeits and ended with a roster depleted by injuries, Liberty Bell players approached the district and asked about the possibility of playing eight-man football. Some players said at the time that they would not continue to turn out for 11-man ball because they were concerned about injuries and competitiveness — and about enjoying the experience.
Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable endorsed the change to eight-man competition on a one-year experimental basis. After last year’s season, activities director Chase Rost recommended to Venable that Liberty Bell return to 11-man ball. Venable accepted the recommendation.
Rost said at the time that his recommendation, which included consultation with coach White, came down to two major factors: The probable difficulty in putting together a schedule for eight-man play this season; and the realignment of the league that Liberty Bell played in before and will now return to.
Liberty Bell used its exceptional speed to overwhelm most of its opponents last year, scoring 70 or more points on several occasions.