OLD ORCHARD BEACH — It’s all new. And it’s still the same.

Eight-man football officially began its first sanctioned season in Maine on Monday, the first day of practices for all high school fall sports.

On the first day, eight-man football looked, sounded and smelled a lot like 11-man football.

“Nothing’s changed,” said Old Orchard Beach Coach Dean Plante. “Practice setup is still the same. We’re preaching tempo and reps from Day One but nothing’s changed. Football is still football.”

Players in shorts and T-shirts, wearing their helmets, practiced throwing, catching and kicking the ball. Offensive formations were put in. Defenses worked on calling out alignments properly. Irritated coaches threatened wind sprints when players walked between drills. And everyone worked up a good sweat on a muggy August day.

“Rules change. Equipment changes. It’s still the same game,” said Old Orchard senior captain Jacob Methot. “You took out three people. We’re still running. We’re still working our (butts) off every day. It’s no different.”


The first regular-season eight-man game will be Thursday, Sept. 5, when Telstar of Bethel visits Old Orchard Beach at 7 p.m.

Plante said the Maine Principals’ Association strongly supported Old Orchard’s request to play its opener a day early as a way to showcase the new version of football.

“We locked in 10 teams but there were a lot more interested,” Plante said. “And I think they’re in a holding pattern, waiting to see how the first year goes. So my thought was, Old Orchard Beach was for it right away, we were in the forefront, so why not see if we can get that opening night.”

Methot said it’s up to the players to prove eight-man’s legitimacy.

“This is our time to show the state of Maine, and New England, and the whole country that this is real. This is happening,” Methot said. “I feel like we have a big role in that.”

The eight-man league is divided into small- and large-school divisions. There will be an MPA-sanctioned playoff. The championship game Nov. 16 will pit the two divisional winners.


Boothbay Region, with an enrollment of 192 students, Telstar (199 students), Old Orchard Beach (243), Traip Academy (255) and Sacopee Valley (310) are in the small-school league. All five played last season in the since disbanded Class E, a two-year experiment designed to keep struggling programs afloat.

The large-school teams are less similar. Maranacook (341 students) played in Class E. Ellsworth/Sumner (483) was in Class D North. Yarmouth (509) and Gray-New Gloucester (596) were in Class C South. Mt. Ararat, the largest eight-man school with 709 students, played in B South.

Each school had its own reasons for switching to eight-man but the primary cause is low participation rates. Across Maine, football participation decreased 17 percent from 2008-2017, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations’ annual survey, a loss of 705 players statewide. That also made it difficult for teams to maintain sub-varsity programs.

With the removal of two linemen and one skill position player on offense, and typically one less player at all three levels on defense, eight-man football is expected to be high scoring.

“There’s more opportunities, more room, a higher-scoring game,” predicted Old Orchard junior running back/defensive end Peter Coleman.

It also opens up opportunities for linemen to catch the ball because every player is eligible as long as they are the end person on the line.


“Yep, even the center,” said Old Orchard junior center Nampo Dayton. “If the center is the last person on the line, he can go out for a pass. There’s a lot of new rules and things that we just have to see how teams are going to use them.”

Eight-man offenses also can be successful stressing a power running game. Plante said some of the best Midwestern teams he studied on film use two tight ends with an old-fashioned full-house backfield using direct snaps.

Chances are that ground-and-pound eight-man football will be on display at Yarmouth. Jim Hartman returns as the coach.

An old-school mentor who loves the power running game, Hartman led the Clippers to Class C championships in 2010 and 2011 before a successful seven-year run at Portland that ended with three straight Class A North titles.

“There’s really no difference other than a couple of guys missing on each side of the field,” Hartman said. “We just have to learn where the holes are, where people are going to show up. That’s going to be different.”

“It’s a lot less protection but I feel like everyone is adapting on the team, the coaches, the players, and we’ll figure it out,” said Yarmouth junior quarterback Jack McGrath. “And I think every other team that’s playing (eight-man) is trying to figure the same thing out.”

The adaptations and changes are worth the effort, said Jack Buthy, a senior lineman and captain at Yarmouth.

“I’ve personally loved football since I was a kid. I couldn’t sleep last night because I just love football so much,” Buthy said. “If I didn’t have football, I’d be pretty bummed.”

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