116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — When it comes down to it, the game is the game.
That Edgewood-Colesburg’s Vikings are playing 8-Player football now instead of the normal 11-player variety is no big deal to most of them.
“We kind of knew it was coming,” Ed-Co’s Jack Wiskus said. “We knew our numbers were getting lower, but we didn’t know exactly when it would happen. It could have been two years ago, we knew it could be two years in the future. Some kids didn’t really care. Football is football to them. Some kids didn’t really like the idea, so we’ve had a few kids that didn’t go out. But for the most part, I guess, people took it and have made the most out of it.”
Because its enrollment in ninth through 11th grades dipped below the threshold of 120 students, Ed-Co could go to the 8-Player game this cycle. Which is what it did.
This has been no ordinary 11-player program recently, as the Vikings went 8-1 last season (going through the regular season unbeaten), 7-3 in 2019 and 10-2 in 2018. That latter team made it to the Class A state playoff semifinals.
But Coach James Rochford said it was an easy decision to drop. There are only 22 kids on the 2021 roster and 10 of those are seniors.
“We’re fortunate to make this transition when we’ve got a lot of pretty talented seniors with a lot of experience,” he said. “In the future, it’s not going to be as flush with talent as we’ve had the last five years.
“I caught a lot of flak, not a lot of straight derogatory comments, but flak from the community about ‘Really? We’re playing eight-man?’ It’s a step down, this and that. Then it was some opposing coaches: ‘You guys are really going to eight-man ball?’ But, seriously, we don’t have the numbers. That’s just a fact.”
Rochford and his staff went to a coaches clinic in Southeast Iowa last spring to get tips on coaching the 8-Player game. He said the clinic taught them what they didn’t want to do, as far as schemes and things, as much as what they did.
Meetings over the summer in Rochford’s basement solidified a literal plan of attack.
“I had asked coaches before to watch a lot of film, draw up some plays they liked and some sets they liked,” he said. “We went with our sets first and probably came up with half a dozen. Then it was like ‘I like this play, I like this play.’ It was kind of like throwing mud at the wall, trying to get a big scope of things, then taking away some things.”
Ed-Co lost its inaugural 8-Player game to Turkey Valley, 14-0, though that game was called after one quarter because of bad weather. The last two weeks has seen the Vikings beat Springville, 72-28, and Central City, 54-6.
Ed-Co played Friday night at Elkader Central (2-1).
“At first, it was a little difficult. But eventually when we started figuring things out and started clicking as a team, it became pretty easy,” said junior quarterback-safety Cael Funk. “I think communication (has been the biggest adjustment). It’s a lot more important. Everybody has got to be able to do their job. In eight-man, if one person doesn’t do their job, it could lead to a touchdown or a big play. Whereas in 11-man, there might be someone there who helps you out.”
Funk leads Ed-Co in passing and rushing and has accounted for nine of the team’s 15 touchdowns.
“I think things are going pretty good, actually,” said Wiskus, a senior receiver-defensive end. “We kind of kept the same scheme game-plan wise. It’s just different having three less players on the field, obviously. We’ve worked a lot on leverage, keeping inside and outside leverage, so that way we can make the tackles. You have to be more disciplined.”
Though Rochford said he considered his team to be “average,” he really can’t say for sure because this is his and everyone else’s first foray into the 8-Player game. Fourth-ranked Easton Valley and No. 10 Lansing Kee are in Ed-Co’s district.
“For the most part, I feel like we have great potential,” Wiskus said. “We have a lot of good athletes out on the field, and I think everyone is starting to get comfortable in their position. I think things are coming around.”
“It’s going OK,” Rochford said. “Every day we are learning new things, offensively and defensively. Today I threw in probably five or six new plays. We had to kind of walk through how we wanted to block them, whether it was this way or that way. It’s different, much different than 11-man. It’s one less guy to block down or pull or whatever you want to do. So, yeah, that stuff is coming ... You’ve just got to move forward, and that’s what we’re doing.”
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