The Red Devils are back — sort of.
After a year’s hiatus from playing football because of a lack of numbers for the high school team, Augusta is playing football this year, and it’s a tad different than before.
The Red Devils are one of a handful of teams making the transition to eight-man football this year, abandoning the traditional 11-man game. This was something the school and community have embraced, Athletic Director Roy Daniels said.
“Our kids are enthused about it,” Daniels said. “The community is excited about it. It’s been nothing but good things. We’ve got some kids who love football. We have always been a football-playing school. The community loves football here in Augusta. I think this gives our kids something to do on Friday nights. It makes them better men.”
Augusta, which is 4-2 on the season, has always been a traditional small-school football power, winning three state championships from 1982-1993. Coach Carroll Wilson won state titles in 1982, 1983 and 1992.
In eight-man football, teams normally use three down linemen. The field is 100 yards long, the same as in 11-man football, but the field is only 40 yards wide, compared to 53 1/3 yards wide on a regulation field. Scoring is the same, as is the time of the game, four 12-minute quarters.
However, games are usually more high-scoring, Daniels said, thus last longer.
In Augusta’s 34-32 win over Little Rock Episcopal on Sept. 28, the game ended well after 10 p.m. after starting at 7 p.m.
“The time of the game is a little bit longer,” Daniels said. “You score a lot of points. I know we had a lot of penalties the other night, but they are playing football. That is the important thing. That is the main objective, giving them a chance to play.
“We’ve got some talent out there.”
Augusta lost to Woodlawn 38-32 in the season opener, then bounced back to beat Decatur 50-8 in Week 2. The Red Devils routed Hermitage 56-28 in Week 3 before accepting a forfeit from Arkansas Christian Academy in Week 4.
Remaining home games include Friday against Hermitage and Nov. 2 against Episcopal.
Daniels thinks more schools will choose to play eight-man football in the coming years.
“I think there will be some more teams thinking about coming over next year,” he said. “Hopefully, we can get some more, and the games will be a lot closer. The games are a little bit far off, but we still have a chance to play football on Friday nights like all the rest of the schools.”
Augusta Public School District Superintendent Cathy Tanner said her school could have brought ninth-graders up to the senior high squad last year in order to play high school football but decided against that.
“We didn’t feel that would be right,” she said. “We didn’t want to influence them to the point they didn’t enjoy playing because they might be so much oversized by 11th- and 12th-graders. We also wanted them to have their glory season. Ninth grade is their glory season, and we wanted to make sure they had it and instill a fire in them to move it forward.”
The Junior Red Devils won five games last year.
Making the decision to play eight-man football was an easy one for Augusta, Tanner said.
“I pushed for it,” she said. “I had been toying with the idea. I didn’t want it to fade. Augusta has a strong tradition in football. We wanted our kids to have that opportunity.
“It’s a two-fold thing. We don’t want to lose our kids to anyone else. The other thing is, because of the little community trying to keep football thriving, we wanted something that they would be proud of.”
Tanner said she had a contact who would call different states to see what they were doing as far as eight-man football.
“I talked to some superintendents, and it went from there,” she said. “That’s when we talked to the Arkansas Activities Association and said, ‘We want it.’ We didn’t know how we were going to do it, whether we were going to do it on our own or if they were going to help us. [AAA associate executive director] Steve Roberts was instrumental in helping us get started.”
Eight-man football is officially a club sport and not a varsity sport recognized by the AAA.
Tanner said that when former Boise State University star Leighton Vander Esch was drafted in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys, that really helped with the start of eight-man football. Vander Esch played eight-man football for Salmon River High School in Riggins, Idaho.
“That really helped,” Tanner said.
Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.