MENDON, Mich. — Eight-man football has become more and more prominent here in West Michigan over the past few years.
Now, traditional state powerhouse Mendon will join those ranks.
"These kids are working just as hard as any kids or teams we've had in the past, there's just three less guys on the field," said head coach Bobby Kretschman.
Last season, the Hornets were looking into making the jump but with the pandemic, decided to put a small roster on the field with nearly every player playing both sides of the ball.
"We knew it was coming some time because last year we had 13 or 14 guys for an 11-man team," said senior quarterback and safety Chris Dupree.
Mendon is just one example of small schools with shrinking enrollments which has had a direct impact on the football program, leading to smaller numbers.
"It looks like we have 14 or so on varsity and 14 or 15 on Junior Varsity, so 28 or 30 kids total," Kretschman added. "I'm comfortable with that for 8-man but putting 14 out there to play 11-man would be a little bit difficult."
The players were quick to embrace the opportunity rather than sulk about it.
"We're a small school," Dupree added. "We don't have many kids wanting to play anymore but what we do have, we still want to have a program."
With 11 state championships in program history, the goal will stay the same and the community will still see the same hard-hitting Mendon football team.
"We still emphasize running the ball and controlling the line of scrimmage so anything we can do to keep things consistent is what we've been doing," said Kretschman, who's entering his sixth season at the helm with a 40-14 overall record.
While it is still football, the rules and terminology can differ at times and that's something the coaches and players are still learning.
"It's a new game, so even as coaches we're still learning, we feel like we have a good plan and things look like they're working but even after the scrimmage and weeks one and two, we're all going to get better."
Senior tight end and defensive end Carter Wilczynski is one of the many players excited about the change.
"I think we took it well pretty much, we knew it was coming at some point, it's just exciting to try something new but it's just getting used to not having as many players on the field definitely and figure out the new positions."
The future is yet to be determined on if the program will remain eight-man or try to make the jump back. Of course, that will all be determined by numbers going forward.
"We'll wait and see," said Kretschman. "Right now, we're 100% committed to this, our rockets have all done it, we've started flag football down to the lower levels to see if that can spark some interest and get some kids involved."
The Hornets will play in tier one of the Southwest Michigan eight-man football league with the likes of Fennville, Martin, Marcellus, Gobles and more.