Things will look a lot different for St. Philip in 2012. Mostly new players and an entirely new type of football as the Tigers will play 8-man football for the first time.
With only one returning senior and two returning juniors, St. Philip is remaking its roster. And with a new game in town, the Tigers are remaking their playbook.
“A lot of stuff is new for us, so we are working hard and trying to learn as fast as we can,” St. Philip coach David Downey said.
There’s also a new excitement at St. Philip. With the change to 8-man football, roster numbers are up for the Tigers and confidence is up, even after St. Philip went 1-8 last year and 2-7 the season before.
“We have a lot of new players, a lot of kids came out their senior year and a lot of new freshmen are coming in, so just a lot of new kids and that’s a positive,” said St. Philip senior Jon Niland. “We are working hard in practice and everyone is coming together pretty well.”
Last season, when the MHSAA first made 8-man football available, there were 22 schools that looked to field a team, including Tekonsha, locally. By the time the season ended, 18 of those teams still were playing football and the MHSAA had 16 of those compete in the first 8-man football playoff tournament.
With that as a backdrop, several more teams decided that 8-man football was a good option this season. In 2012, there will be 30 schools playing 8-man football, including Tekonsha again and St. Philip locally.
With a full schedule of 8-man football in front of St. Philip, the Tigers are learning on the go and will have a different look once they are on the field.
“The hardest part was getting a new offense established, getting the system down with the 8-man concept. You only five on the line, one less back in the backfield. We are busy looking into trying to establish the run while also looking for the best way to pass,” Downey said. “But with the new attitude the student-athletes had coming in, the least of our worries has been the buy in. They being excited was half the battle and they are all for it.”
As with many 8-man football offenses, it will all start at quarterback for St. Philip. That’s a plus as the Tigers return junior Alex Doyle, who started last year for St. Philip and threw for 1,000-plus yards.
At 6-foot-3 and with good athletic ability, Doyle will be a dual threat in the new 8-man football offense.
“He has a good strong arm and he’s a big strong kid and we are going to have to rely on him a lot,” Downey said. “He can throw, plus he can run the ball pretty well, too. For a big guy, he’s the second-fastest guy on our team.
“Our strength is going to be the quarterback, an athletic bunch of receivers and we have Jon Niland back at running back.
Niland returns as the lone senior with experience on the team. In the offense for the Tigers, he will be the lone running back in many of the formations. However, he will be joined by two other seniors joining the football program for the first time as Rich Yacovoni and Jacob Reece will get time at receiver in the wide-open offense.
Also getting time at receiver could be sophomore Hunter Haley and sophomore Nick Hurst returns with experience at running back and receiver.
“Last year we passed the ball a lot and we will still be throwing the ball a lot this year, because you have to in 8-man football. But I think we can be a little more balanced as well and run the ball some this year because we have some good backs,” Doyle said.
On the offensive line, St. Philip will rely on the experience of 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior Jack Luoma, who will start for the third year at center. Tyrus Sonneborn also returns on the offensive line after playing last year as a freshman.
St. Philip will be working in a new defense as well, varying from a 3-2 front to a 4-2 front, numbers not usually talked about in football — but the norm in 8-man football.
Another key returner on defense, who will give the Tigers something to build on, includes sophomore linebacker Kevin Greenman, who saw time last year as a freshman.
St. Philip will be part of a new conference called the Southern Michigan 8-Man Football League, which will also include Burr Oak, Litchfield, Portland St. Patrick, Tekonsha and Waldron.
St. Philip will continue to play home games at C.W. Post Field, using a regulation field. But when on the road, St. Philip’s opponents will have the narrower 8-man football field.
St. Philip will be playing all the teams in the new 8-man football league twice, except for Tekonsha. The second time St. Philip faces each of those schools, it will be a league game.