By Brian Storey
Oak Hall School has fielded an 11-man football team since 2006. But for the 2020 season, the program went to the 8-man style of play. The decision was made due to the lack of players. Instead of being part of the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) for football, the team is now part of the Sunshine State League along with 14 other teams. Head Coach RJ Fuhr said that roster size was one of the reasons the change was made, but safety was also a priority. “We felt like going into the 11-man season with 16 kids wasn’t what was in the best interest of our kids,” he said.
8-man and 11-man football have many differences. Both versions have the same procedures, rules, and structure because regardless of the total number of athletes on the field, football is football. Some differences between the two include field size, the number of players on the field, jersey number restrictions, how to score extra points, types of formations, and kickoffs just to name a few.
With 11-man football, the field is 100 yards long and 50 yards wide. In 8-man football however, the field can either be 80 or 100 yards long and must be 40 yards wide. It is up to the home team to decide how long they want their field to be. For example, Oak Hall’s field is 100 yards long which tends to make the offensive drives longer than if we were playing at Master’s Academy (Vero Beach) which is only 80 yards.
Of course, there is the obvious difference between the two formats being that in 8-man, there are only eight players on the field where in 11-man, there are 11 players of the field. This causes the offensive and defensive formations to look a little different. In 8-man there must be five players on the line of scrimmage, three of those being a center and two guards. If a team decides to have five linemen (a center, two guards and two tackles), and then have two wings, then the tackles are tight ends because they become eligible to receive a pass. From a defensive point of view, teams have a lot of options. If the team has a safety, it’s pretty useless because the majority of teams are run heavy teams instead of a passing or balanced team.
Having those three fewer people makes kicking field goals very hard since one side of the line will have one less person, causing that side easier to blitz from. Also, most teams don’t have field goal posts. Instead, after a touchdown teams will go for two points by scoring from the 5-yard line.
In 8-man, kickoffs don’t exist. Instead, the drive automatically starts on the 25-yard line. Despite the fact that the teams don’t do kickoffs, teams are\ still allowed to punt (which often has the same effect as when kicking a field goal partially due to the lack of blockers and because most of the time, 8-man teams don’t have someone who can kick very well).
While there are many differences in 8-man vs. 11-man, when you get down to it, it’s still football. Many people are realizing this because in recent years, there has been an increase in the number of 8-man teams in Florida since there are many small schools that can’t compete with the more populated schools that have a larger talent pool of student-athletes. For this football season, as the coronavirus has changed how the team practices, travels for away games, and even how the players get water during practice and games, it appears the 8-man Oak Hall team is a good fit for the school. “I am so glad we made the decision to go to 8-man and am very proud of how our team has bought into playing 8 man and also buying into our new offensive system,” Fuhr said. At the end of the day, football games are being played, there hasn’t been an outbreak of COVID-19 at Oak Hall, and the team is undefeated…a highlight to any season.