The Waterville Senior High School team runs during practice Monday in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — As a sophomore, Billy Place wasn’t too enthusiastic about his school making a switch to eight-man football.

Two years later, the running back and safety is looking forward to giving it a shot.

“I really hoped we were going to stay 11-man,” he said. “But maturing from sophomore year to right now made me realize that the eight-man move will actually be a good fit for our team, because we just (haven’t had) a lot of numbers in the past couple of years. It’ll be better for our team, and better for subbing.”

The list of teams making the switch to eight-man football has grown, from 10 in the inaugural 2019 season to 26 for this fall. Included among those squads for this year are Mount View and Waterville, the latter of which went 11-31 over the last five seasons in Class C as turnout numbers continued to dip.

On Monday, the Purple Panthers, who would have played eight-man last year were it not for the pandemic that wiped out the season, had their first day of practicing the new style. As they got ready for the two-a-day practice sessions, the players were ready.

“We’re definitely looking forward to it,” Place said. “It’s a lot different than 11-man, so we’re excited to face the new challenges that are coming with 8-man. And especially after last year, having the 7-on-7 flag, just getting back in pads and hitting people, we’re really excited for that.”


“Transitioning from 11-man to eight-man is definitely a process, because it’s less space, field width-wise,” senior quarterback and linebacker Liam Von Oesen said. “But there are also more opportunities. Because there’s less players, you’re able to attack different areas. And I feel like we have a very good skill set to accomplish that.”

A Waterville Senior High School football player works through a drill during the team’s first practice of the season Monday in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Coach Isaac LeBlanc, in his second year with the team but his first in a full football season, said the team is looking at eight-man as a new beginning after some difficult seasons and the frustrations of the pandemic last year.

“I think it’s a fresh start for a lot of us,” he said. “Getting in shape and working hard, learning our system, getting more athletic. … There are a lot of question marks going into the year, figuring out how the flow of the game’s going to work.”

The eight-man format puts an emphasis on offense and the skill position players, and the Panthers got a glimpse of how they’d fare in such a style in the 7-on-7 competitions last fall.

“The change from 11-man to the 7-on-7 flag really helped us with our offensive skill level,” Place said. “We had to see where we were with our passing abilities and being able to run clean, sharp routes every play.”

“With 7-on-7, you’re playing on a normal field and you only have seven defenders, so you’ve really got to lock in on your defense,” Von Oesen added. “So I feel like that’s going to transition very well to 8-man. Less defenders, it’s similar.


“Offensively, we’re really working on the passing game. I think that’s going to help a lot.”

As a quarterback, Von Oesen said he’s looking forward to seeing fewer defenders on the other side of the ball.

“I definitely am,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be new, new coverages and stuff. But it’s going to be cool to see how everything works out and plays out.”

Waterville Senior High School football team members work through a drill during the team’s first practice of the season at the school Monday. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

It’ll be new for both players and coaches. The eight-man format changes traditional player roles and forces players to be even more disciplined with tackling and containment, as fewer players means it’s easier for a team to break a big play.

“Even though there’s less space, physically, on the field, there’s more opportunities for big plays,” LeBlanc said. “It’s an athletic game. You’ve got to have athletes, you’ve got to have guys make plays in space. I think the stakes are going to get magnified even more in the 8-man game, because there are less guys able to cover you if you do make a mistake.”

To that extent, LeBlanc doesn’t expect his players to be completely comfortable with eight-man right away. He knows there will be some bumps along the way.

“It’s going to be exciting,” he said. “Nobody’s an expert on this, it’s all our first time going through it. I’m very excited to get going with it, though. I think it’s going to be a tremendous change in style of play.”

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