Strong’s first season of playing eight-man football has been a smashing success.
The Bulldogs will be playing for the 2A 8-Man state title tonight against Mountain Pine at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock aiming to cap an undefeated season.
Mountain Pine coach Sam Counce can relate to the Bulldogs’ success.
Last year, it was the Red Devils who won the state title by knocking off Spring Hill.
With eight-man football in its infancy in Arkansas, schools are still getting a feel for the format, but Counce said it has rejuvenated his program.
“The first year I was at Mountain Pine, we were 11-man and we didn’t have enough to finish the season,” Counce said. “We played two games and then the kids just went to basketball or the seniors went away, things like that. It let us keep competing and let us play football. We declared late and luckily somebody dropped out and we got the spot. It has really kept our kids interested in football. Our goal has always been to get back to 11, but I don’t see that happening in the next cycle. It gives our kids a sense of football, and I’m thankful for that because in small communities, football is a big deal. That’s the way it is in Mountain Pine.”
As has been the case at other schools, fans were skittish on the idea at first, but once play began, things changed.
“That’s exactly how it was. Nobody wanted it,” Counce said. “It was a hard sell. I still have people say, ‘Do y’all wear pads? Is it flag?’ I go, ‘No, it’s regular football, just there’s eight people instead of 11.’ I’m for eight-man. I think it’s a great deal for small communities. I hope more communities buy into it that want to have football.”
As far as the future of eight-man goes, Counce said he believes it will continue to grow.
“I think we’ll get more teams,” Counce said. “If you look back to some of the schools and communities that used to have football, I think it’s an opportunity for those people to get back into football. Friday nights are special, especially in small towns in Arkansas. I think if people really research and understand eight-man football, I think it will be a big deal. Now you’ve got some Double-A schools that have a hard time competing with other schools and then all of a sudden, their numbers drop, people move to other places. I just think it’s going to grow. I’m all for it. I’m thankful we’ve got it. I want to get back to 11 as soon as we have the numbers, but I’m thankful we’ve got eight-man to keep our kids interested in the program.”