Clovis Christian players line up in a basic 8-man formation offense which the Eagles will use this season in their transition from the 6-man game. (CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks)
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
After 19 seasons of playing 6-man football, the New Mexico Activities Association has opened the door this year for some of its smaller schools to move a little closer to the traditional 11-man game.
A total of 14 schools, including Melrose, Floyd and Clovis Christian, are preparing for their first taste of 8-man football and, for the most part, they’re looking forward to it.
“I think it’s going to be good, really,” CCS coach Greg Darden said. “You’re going to have more kids (playing) who’ve never had a chance to play 6-man.”
While everyone on offense in the 6-man game is able to catch a pass, 8-man features three interior lineman on offense who are not eligible receivers.
Melrose coach Dickie Roybal welcomes the change, even though his team has made three straight appearances in the 6-man state finals and is struggling a bit with numbers this year.
“I played 11-man in high school (at Fort Sumner),” he said. “As far as the kids we’ve had since the seventh grade, we’re just teaching them different concepts.
“There are a lot more schemes in 8-man. I really like it a lot more, and I think the kids are really enjoying it.”
As enrollments have changed over the years, the disparity has grown in the 6-man game — to the point where the smallest schools, for whom the game was originally designed, were generally overmatched.
In addition to 8-man, there are 10 Class 1A schools playing 11-man football and seven left in 6-man.
“We’re really excited for it,” said Mario Martinez, NMAA associate director and former Fort Sumner football coach. “One of our big goals is participation, and the 8-man game allows for that. The lineman type (of player) that doesn’t have a lot of speed couldn’t play in the 6-man game.”
The NMAA brought in former 8-man coaches from Oklahoma to introduce the game. “After that, some of our schools said they were ready to try it,” Martinez said.
The standard field will be 100 yards long by 40 yards wide, although some teams like CCS will still play on an 80 x 40 field. Other teams in New Mexico which converted a regular field (100 yards by 53 yards) to 6-man (80 x 40) will be able to go to the longer length.
“The wider field gives fast teams a definite advantage (in 8-man),” Martinez said. “By narrowing it down, it evens the playing field a little more.”
The rules are basically the same as in 11-man, he added, except there’s no requirement in 8-man that offensive lineman have numbers in the 50s, 60s or 70s.
Floyd coach Rafael Roybal is looking forward to the change, even though the Broncos only have about 10 high school boys out.
Roybal served as an assistant for about two decades at Fort Sumner, but had to learn the nuances of 6-man when he came to Floyd last season.
“Years ago I watched a couple of games,” he said. “It’s a lot like 11-man except there’s one less back and no tackles (on offense).
“I just think this is a better game. It makes my experience a lot more pertinent.”
Coaches like the additional strategy, and anticipate far fewer games in the 60s and 70s.
“I think it’s going to help us a lot,” Darden said of his program. “We didn’t have the speed (in 6-man) to keep up with everybody else, but I think this is going to even out the teams a little.
“Now you have to learn blocking schemes and that kind of stuff. We’re going to have to go out and do some homework now.”
The games should also be more competitive.
“I think there may be a couple of teams better than everybody else, but after that it’s wide open,” said Dickie Roybal, whose team plays host Menaul Sept. 23 in Albuquerque in the finale of a special 8-man tripleheader. “For defensive coaches, it makes a big difference. It’s about impossible in 6-man to have some kind of scheme.”