CONESTOGA – Conestoga football fans will be able to watch eight-man games at Cougar Stadium during the next two fall campaigns.
Conestoga Board of Education members unanimously voted this past week to sponsor eight-man football in the 2020 and 2021 seasons. The Cougars had participated in 11-man football this past fall.
Conestoga will be the third Cass County school to compete in eight-man football. Elmwood-Murdock and Weeping Water both fielded eight-man teams this past season and were Class D-1 programs.
Conestoga head coach Trenton Clausen said participation numbers played a critical role in the decision to change to an eight-man classification. Coaches polled all Conestoga students in grades 8-11 to see how many would be interested in going out for football in 2020. Eighteen students indicated they would play the sport for sure next year.
Conestoga had 22 players on the 2019 roster. If the poll numbers remain the same, the 2020 roster would include 14 returning players and four newcomers.
“We want to put our students and program in a position to be able to play all of our varsity games without the chance of needing to forfeit any games due to injury and also be able to play all of our JV games,” Clausen said. “The lack of JV games over the past few years due to numbers have been a downfall in the development of our younger players.”
Clausen said the coaching staff felt moving to eight-man football would also help the team enjoy more productive practices. The Cougars did not have enough players this past season to be able to line up in 11-on-11 drills and scrimmages.
“We also want to be able to allow for adequate practice numbers so we can have a full scout team,” Clausen said. “During the 2019 season we averaged 17 players in practice, which was very difficult to prepare for our opponents when the only time we saw a full opposing team on the field was during games. It came down to being able to have a roster size that is similar to our opponents.”
Nebraska School Activities Association officials operate football on a two-year cycle. Schools have a deadline of Nov. 30 to declare their preference of classification to the NSAA. Schools could choose to compete in 11-man, eight-man or six-man football in 2020 and 2021.
Schools in 11-man football play in Classes A, B, C-1 and C-2. Eight-man programs in Nebraska are in Classes D-1 and D-2, and schools with six-man teams play games in Class D-6.
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A few schools in Nebraska still have not made a determination on what classification they will be in for the next two years, but most districts have informed the NSAA about their decision. A total of 116 schools have elected to participate in eight-man football in 2020 and 2021. Some schools will be sponsoring solo programs and others will field co-op teams with nearby districts.
The number of eight-man programs will increase from the previous two-year cycle. There were 109 schools that were in Classes D-1 and D-2 last season. Thirty-one other teams played six-man football.
Clausen said Conestoga representatives reached out to area schools to gauge their experiences in the transition from 11-man to eight-man football, but the Cougars did not base their decision on the situations at other districts.
NSAA officials will release classification and district assignments for the next two seasons in December. Schools will then be able to submit a priority list of non-district opponents they would like to have on their 2020 and 2021 football schedules. The NSAA will evaluate each request over the following two months.
NSAA officials will spend all of January and several weeks in February establishing football schedules for all teams. Individual districts do not control any aspect of the football scheduling process. The NSAA will release full football schedules and home and away assignments on Feb. 12.
Elmwood-Murdock, Weeping Water, Nebraska City Lourdes, Palmyra and Omaha Brownell-Talbot were in District D1-2 this past season. Conestoga will likely play many of those opponents during the next two years.
Clausen said Conestoga athletes were looking forward to the opportunity to play eight-man football. He said the Cougars would work hard to create successful moments on the field.
“The kids are supportive of the change and it allows for some new challenges for our program,” Clausen said. “During the entire process I was very honest with the kids of explaining the challenges we will face playing a new style of football.
“We know there is a lot of work to be done on preparing our program and kids to play eight-man football. Nothing changes from before; we still need to create more buy-in from our kids to preparing for a football season and games in order to play at the level we set out for.”