Area teams making transition to 9-man football
Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s and Red Rock Central are 9-man’s newest full members in the area, while Cedar Mountain/Comfrey is moving down to 9-man for the regular season only before moving back up to Class A for the section playoffs.
“It’s a little bit of work,” St. Mary’s football coach Brent Kucera said. “Our base offense is going to transition very well. But defense is going to be extremely difficult — you can’t do the normal types of assignments or anything on defense. Defense is going to be a big learning curve for us.”
St. Mary’s made the Class A state playoffs for three consecutive seasons from 2011 to 2013 despite being well beneath the enrollment cutoff for 9-man football. Due to the low numbers coming up through the lower grades, the switch down to 9-man finally had to be made.
“Every year, it seems we had to cancel one or two JV games because we didn’t have enough bodies to put a full team on the field,” Kucera said. “That’s pretty much what made the decision for us. When you start cancelling JV games because of the number of players, that’s what forced the decision.”
Decreasing enrollment was also a main reason why Red Rock Central moved down to 9-man.
Athletic director Bryce Pack said the school originally decided to stay at Class A after holding a meeting for grades 8-11 trying to gauge interest in football in spring 2014. Pack said 48 kids showed up for the initial meeting, but that number dwindled to 38 when it came time to report for preseason practice in August.
“In that particular year, I remember we had six or seven major injuries that cost us kids as the season went on,” Pack said. “We went into the playoff game that year with a roster of 29 kids and that was 9-12.”
Cedar Mountain/Comfrey did not have the same issues with decreasing enrollment, but a lack of boys in both schools has still made numbers scarce. Mankato Loyola, which had to forfeit a couple games last year due to not having enough players available, will also be moving down into the Central Subdistrict of the 9-man South District.
Dwane Jemmings, the first-year CM/C coach who has spent the past decade coaching at the junior high level, said he is expecting to have 34 kids out for football next year — including just six seniors.
“We’re struggling with numbers, especially with kids coming out for football,” Jemmings said. “[There are] a lot of kids who should be coming out for football but aren’t.”
One thing that should help is the fact that Jemmings has had his junior high teams dabble in 9-man schemes or play split 9-man/11-man games in the past.
“We played 11-man on offense and then they played 9-man on offense,” Jemmings said. “So the kids are familiar with it. It make take a little bit to get used to offense-wise, but they’ll adjust fine.”
Cedar Mountain/Comfrey has to return to Class A after the regular season because its combined projected enrollment between the two schools is 177, which is well above the 9-man cutoff of 150. According to the MSHSL rule book, teams must be approved by the Board of Directors to go down to 9-man if it has a legitimate participation issue, but cannot compete in the 9-man section playoffs if the enrollment is above 150.
Cedar Mountain/Comfrey will have to adjust both Cedar Mountain’s and Comfrey’s football fields for 9-man participation. Comfrey High School is scheduled to have its Homecoming in late September with its Homecoming game set for Saturday, Sept. 23 against Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran.
Field modifications must be made to compete at 9-man, although the Minnesota State High School League dictates that 9-man football should be played on a 100-yard field if possible with an option for an 80-yard field if space is limited. Because these three teams previously competed at the 11-man level, only the width of the fields must be reduced from 53 1/3 yards (160 feet) to 40 yards (120 feet).
“We put in metal stakes to mark every 5-yard marker,” Kucera said. “The length of the field is the same, the field goal posts are the same. We just had to narrow the field by 14 yards.”
The field for St. Mary’s has already been re-measured thanks to help from Mathiowetz Construction. Red Rock Central is in the process of resizing its field in the school’s Lamberton locale, but still has plenty of time before the season begins to do it.
“We haven’t decided how we’re going to do it yet as far as how our field sits in the outfield of the baseball field,” Pack said. “We knew we were going to be getting new goal posts — we had been looking at that for a year or two and then we decided to wait until we made the decision to go 9-man.”
St. Mary’s and Cedar Mountain/Comfrey will be joined by Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart, their old foe from the Southern Minnesota Conference before the establishment of districts in high school football took effect in 2015. But as far as other teams on their slate — Madelia, West Lutheran, Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran, Truman/Granada-Huntley-East Chain, Alden-Conger/ Glenville-Emmons — those will be completely new.
“We’re still going to be in the bottom-third size-wise in 9-man and we’re actually going to be playing a couple teams that are bigger than the teams we have faced in 11-man,” Kucera said. “It’s going to be interesting. We’re going to be facing a couple teams that are bigger than the Wabassos, the Springfields, the Dawson-Boyds, so we’re still going to be facing some bigger teams now that we’re down a class.”