There could be some notable newcomers to eight-man football when pre-season training begins in August.
The growth rate in the state’s eight-player high school football rankings this fall could be modest compared to last year, when the number of teams that moved from the traditional 11-player competition to the lesser version population of the sport has increased by 150 percent. , from 10 to 25 schools.
Bucksport High School has already decided to join the eight-player ranks for the 2022 season, while a cooperative entry involving three North Aroostook County high schools – Fort Kent, Madawaska and Wisdom of Saint Agatha – plans to make the same thing.
At least one other school may also join the eight-man split, as Greely of Cumberland Center, which fielded an 11-man Class A co-op entry in 2021 with Falmouth, is still working to determine whether it will have its own eight-man squad. . this autumn.
Bucksport, a founding member of the Little Ten Conference in 1950 and a frequent contender for regional and state honors in the ranks of small schools, will join many of its former LTC rivals in an eight-man competition this fall after a recent vote by the local commission. school, according to Golden Bucks athletic administrator Aaron Ward.
“Certainly the tradition here at Bucksport is huge, so that’s always part of the equation,” he said. “But I think when presented with the facts and figures and athlete safety and the impact that moving to eight men could have in terms of the jayvee schedule and having the benefit of a full jayvee schedule , it was probably in the best interest of the program to make this decision.
Bucksport, the Class D North champion as recently as 2019, also considered switching to eight-man football a year ago before sticking to the 11-man mark, and with just four college players from return, they finished 2-6.
Longtime head coach Joel Sankey expects his roster to grow to between 28 and 32 players this fall, with lower numbers expected in 2023 and 2024 before projections finally increase in 2025.
“We could play 11-a-side football,” Sankey said. “The problem is that we’re still going to be young and inexperienced and we won’t have depth. And if we play football at 11, I don’t know what we would do with the [junior varsity] team.”
Indeed, the move to eight-man football at Bucksport is linked not only to varsity competition, but also to the sub-college level, where young players can gain experience against physical and experienced opponents. similar before entering the university ranks.
While eight-man teams in the region were able to play a full sub-varsity schedule last fall, Sankey said Bucksport only managed three or four 11-man junior varsity competitions.
“Just having the confidence that after a Friday night game we will have this Monday [JV] game and we’ll have the numbers to back it up, that’s huge for kids developing at that level, and obviously that’s for the future,” added Ward.
Bucksport’s eight-player college football program is expected to include games against traditional foes like Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln, Dexter, Orono and Stearns of Millinocket, as well as Hancock County rivals Mount Desert Island and Ellsworth.
Road games against these opponents will in most cases require much shorter bus trips than last fall’s Class D schedule, when the Golden Bucks’ road trips to Winthrop (twice), Oak Hill of Wales, Lisbon and Foxcroft Academy of Dover-Foxcroft averaged at least two hours one way.
“It’s a bit bittersweet for us,” Ward said. “Obviously you want to keep that 11-man status if you can, but there’s also a lot of excitement playing against some of our traditional rivals, so we’ll see where that takes us.”
Maine’s potential crown co-op entry is currently known as the St. John Valley Mustangs, which consists of Valley Unified SAU student-athletes from SAD 27 in Fort Kent, SAD 33 in Frenchville, and the school department of Madawaska.
The team competed for more than a decade in an independent league that included three Aroostook County teams until Houlton joined the Maine Principals’ Association football ranks in 2014 and moved to eight-man competition. players in 2021.
The Mustangs won their fifth league championship since 2007 last fall, but as one of four remaining teams in the Maine Independent Football League – including one from faraway Berlin, New Hampshire – fans are hoping the team will get a school affiliation and will be approved to join the MPA ranks to secure a full regular season schedule against opponents in northern and eastern Maine.
The topic was discussed at a recent SAD 27 board meeting and is expected to come up again in early May.
“We’re looking to get the team into the MPA rotation,” Fort Kent athletic administrator Josh Nichols said.
Nichols said if the proposal is approved, a regular training site would likely be established at one of the three schools with home games rotating between the three communities.
The team’s existing infrastructure could be a factor that could help the Mustangs transition to the interscholastic level. Nichols said the program is largely financially self-sufficient through the efforts of an active booster program and also has a high-level junior team that could serve as an off-the-shelf power system for the high school team. .
“If we were to start a program from scratch, I don’t think that would happen, but where they were established to [more than] 10 years now they have all the equipment they need and basically everything they have they are going to transition to schools so the program can start immediately,” he said.