For Gilbert Christian Head Football Coach Larry Cain, eight-man football is something he’s known all of his life.Growing up in Oklahoma, where prominent schools ran programs where there would be three less people than the traditional eleven.
When he arrived in Arizona, he realized eight-man leagues were saved only for the smaller districts.
“It’s just not as popular as some other places,” Cain said.
That hasn’t stopped Cain from having success with his eight-man program at Gilbert Christian High School. Through three games in 2014, the Knights are averaging just over 72 points a game. With a roster close to 20, the football program is about on par with the school’s cheerleading team in terms of quantity, but in terms of quality, the Knights are a well-oiled juggernaut.
While the roster is smaller than most, even for other eight-man teams, Cain and his staff have put a focus on conditioning. Cain often has his team run up to three miles in a given day to make sure will not become fatigued when the fourth quarter rolls around on Friday nights.
“We’ve been out here all summer, working as hard as we can, running everyday. Teams might come out and look at us and see 20 guys, but we know we’ve been out here working harder than they have since the beginning and so we’re ready to go and go for all four quarters,” quarterback Bailey Anderson said.
Along with three less players for each team on the field, the playing surface is about five yards narrower on each side. While the smaller field makes things a bit tighter, the number of players on the field makes for plenty of big plays and teams lighting up the scoreboard.
“It’s a lot faster game. There’s a lot more passing, a lot more big plays. When the fields more spread out, you have a bigger opportunity to run more and (it’s) a little bit faster game,” running back Tanner Conover said.
And for the skeptics that believe eight-man football is a lesser product than that of the traditional eleven-man football, Cain has a challenge:
“Come watch a game. There’s no difference. To play eight-man or to play eleven-man, you have to be football-smart. You have to be a good athlete. You have to have the determination in the weight room and in the classroom. There’s no difference”.