Eight is enough MAIS schools embrace eight-man football to keep programs going

Published 12:05 am Sunday, August 22, 2010

As longtime rivals Tensas Academy and Briarfield broke their respective huddles and walked toward the line of scrimmage, something seemed to be missing.

Tensas still had the same white jerseys it’s worn for years, and Briarfield its navy blue. Tensas lined up in a power-I formation, same as it often does, while Briarfield deployed its normal defense.

When the players wandered to their assigned positions, what was missing finally became apparent. On this particular play, there were no receivers. Moments later, Tensas ran a play that featured only three down linemen and a receiver wearing No. 64.

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It wasn’t a gimmick offense the Chiefs were trying out in this preseason jamboree. It was just basic eight-man football, a variation on the sport that allowed both programs to keep playing during seasons when they might otherwise have had to close up shop.

In the wide open spaces of the Great Plains, eight-man football is king. Although 21 states have eight-man leagues, nearly half of the nation’s teams are located in just four — Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and California. A total of 815 schools nationwide play the slimmed-down version of the sport, with a host of others playing six- and nine-man variations. Eight-man football has gained a foothold in Mississippi over the past three years. Fourteen members of the Mississippi Private School Association — including Vicksburg-area schools Rebul, Briarfield and Tensas Academy — play it, double the number when the division was created in 2008.