Whitehorse, Monticello and Monument Valley join Utah’s inaugural 8-player football league

by Joe Boyle
Staff Writer
Monument Valley, Whitehorse, and Monticello high schools are moving from eleven-player football to an eight-player football league this fall. 
There will be state-sanctioned eight-player football in Utah for the first time in nearly a century. This includes the potential for an official playoff and state tournament for the 2022 football postseason. 
Brenan Jackson, Director of Football for the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA), said there has been talk about an eight-player league in Utah for some time now. 
“Eight-player football has been discussed for a number of years,” said Jackson. “A number of schools have contacted the association about an eight-player league.”
Football is a popular sport that most schools would love to offer their students. But according to Jackson, the cost and the number of students needed to support an 11-player league were too much to bear for many schools.
Eight teams have shown interest in playing including Monticello, Whitehorse, Monument Valley, Rich, Altamont, Water Canyon, the Utah School for the Deaf and Blind, and Saint Joseph Catholic High School.
There are currently only seven teams in the eight-player league for the upcoming season due to St. Joseph not being able to obtain equipment in time. The UHSAA requires the league to have at least eight teams to play a state-sanctioned postseason tournament.
The Association has made it possible for a team that will primarily be playing 1A 11-player football to fill that final spot in the tournament if they meet the following requirements:
1) They must have been ranked in the bottom three in the RPI for the past three years. 2) They must play at least one eight-player football game this season. 3) They can only join if it fills the eighth spot in the eight-player league.
Jackson said it’s too early to say whether he thinks the final spot will be filled. However, he said he does know that a couple of the teams fitting the criteria do have at least one eight-player game scheduled to leave the door open.
Jackson went on to simply call eight-player football “fun.” He hopes the offense-forward game will bring smaller schools into the league, specifically charter and private schools.
The rules and strategy of eight-player football are, for the most part, the same seen in traditional 11-player football. It’s the same sport known and loved by so many all over the nation, just with fewer athletes on the field.
MHS football head coach Reed Anderson had this to say about the changes in the two leagues: “Teams still run a Wing-T, four-wide, I-formation, etc. Defense, teams will run four, three, or two defensive linemen, just all depends on the coach’s philosophy.
“With eight players the game will appear to be faster-paced and typically scoring is up as most teams must play more man-to-man and that opens up the opportunity for more mistakes.
“In 11-player, if a player makes a mistake more players are there to cover up that mistake. In eight there are fewer players to help and so this results in a few more scoring plays than you get in 11-player.”
Less clutter makes for a more open field, leading to many eight-player football games being fast-paced, high-scoring affairs.
The most noticeable difference to the game is the shortened field. Rather than the 53-yard-wide and 100-yard-long field seen in traditional football, eight-player football will sport a 40-yard-wide and 80-yard-long field.
However, most teams that convert to eight-player football, including MHS, will continue to play with the length of the field being 100 yards because of the goalposts.
Anderson went on to say, “The size of our school makes us a great fit for eight-player football.” With a student body of fewer than 150 students, traditional 11-player football numbers required to compete were tough to meet for MHS.
The low enrollment numbers should be no problem in supporting an eight-player football program. 
There will be a dramatic drop in travel mileage this season compared to recent years, leading to considerably fewer travel expenses for the school and less time out of the classroom for students. The longest trip for Monticello to play a game is to Altamont – farthest by over 100 miles.
There are a number of healthy and thriving eight-player football leagues in Colorado that many schools neighboring San Juan County participate in. 
These bordering schools have even recently found success, with Mancos reaching the championship game this past season and Dove Creek making it to the semifinals in 2020.
The new eight-player league is accessible enough to introduce the nation’s most popular and profitable sport to a wide array of Utah’s most diverse small schools. 
As the league hopefully continues to gain traction, there is a great likelihood other schools that haven’t traditionally played football will join, namely Region 20 schools in south-central Utah.
The vast majority of Region 20 schools play 1A baseball which also takes place in the fall. It’s the only classification of baseball that isn’t played in the spring, which has led to on-and-off discussions of the 1A baseball season potentially being moved to spring.
The introduction of an eight-man league has caused a great deal of change and excitement in the small-town sports landscape in Utah. It will surely continue to do so as it grows.

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