As it turns out, playing 11-man football is similar to riding a bike. Once you learn, you never really forget how to do it.
At least that’s what a handful of seniors at the Covenant School are finding out this season as the school’s football program transitions to from the six-man ranks to 11-man for the first time.
“It’s more of us getting adjusted to the bigger field and the bigger playbook,” said running back Barrett Scully. “For a lot of us, it wasn’t about completely changing positions.”
For the underclassmen in the Covenant program, it’s no big deal. The school played an 11-man junior varsity schedule last year, and implemented the 11-man game in middle school three years before that. The seniors would play one final season together at the varsity six-man level, just as they had for five highly successful years before that. It was all part of a long-range plan to move up in response to growing enrollment at the school.
“We didn’t want to make an overnight change,” said Covenant head coach Brice Helton. “We wanted it to be slow and steady. We wanted to continue to grow the program and not take a step back.”
Then fellow TAPPS school Dallas Lutheran wanted to shift from 11-man to six-man football, and a spot opened up in an 11-man district, a year earlier than Covenant had anticipated.
So in January, Helton gathered his seniors with an idea. But he needed their approval. After all, the six-man game was all they had known since middle school.
“We felt like this was our best year to transition,” Helton said. “They were excited about leading us.”
So Helton combined the more than two dozen players in the program on to one varsity team. He also combined the coaching staff and altered the offseason routine, and began assembling a schedule for this fall.
There are other advantages. Last year, the Knights logged more than 1,500 miles on the road, and this season that will be cut by more than two-thirds, with their longest road trip to Gainesville. And in Scully’s case, he is getting to play a season with his two younger siblings who were moved up from the JV squad.
Among the challenges are finding enough lineman (since they aren’t a factor in the six-man game) and playing just two Saturday games on Covenant’s home field, which doesn’t have lights. Still, there’s plenty of reason for optimism.
“I don’t think it could be any smoother at this point,” Helton said. “We feel like we can make the playoffs this year. If we stay healthy, I’m excited.”