CHICAGO (CBS) — Concern about safety is one reason why fewer kids, and parents, are choosing not to play football.
CBS 2’s Megan Mawicke reports, less is more for one high school program that isn’t giving up on the sport.
Lake Forest Academy boasts one of the oldest football programs in Illinois, founded in 1871.
Now they’re trying to tackle low turnout by fielding an eight-man football team.
“There is a lot of tradition here for football. A lot of pride and we don’t want to lose it,” said athletic director Darrin Madeley.
“The more youth we get playing, then you’ll have teams with 40-50 guys,” said head coach Michael Buchanan. “Really, we’re just thankful that we do have this bridge to continue to play football.”
They only have a roster of 22 players. So instead of the typical 11 men on the field, the offense and the defense only features eight players, often playing both sides of the ball.
The biggest difference: the width of the field is about 14 yards shorter.
“A lot of people say eight-men is a track meet with pads on,” said team captain Charlie Johnson. “Because there’s a lot of open field, because there are less people. You don’t have a running back and you take out two linemen.”
Even their coach, a former defensive end for Illinois and the New England Patriots, likes this smaller game.
“It’s growing on me. Coming into it definitely was a huge learning experience and trying to draw plays and you’re short three guys is definitely a learning curve,” said Buchanan.
Eight man football is a growing across the country, but just really starting to take off in Illinois. The Caxys are a committed bunch. They have to travel quite a ways just to find an opponent.
“Where don’t we go,” said Buchanan. “We go to Wisconsin. We have games in Michigan. We play teams from Indiana.”
“I think in five, 10 years all the schools in the Midwest are going to be playing eight-man,” said quarterback Joe Kotlarz. “It’s just the future.”
“Illinois is trying to make this eight man work and I think pretty soon we’ll be at 50-60 teams, that’s what they’re saying by 2020,” added Madeley. “The only goal for me is to give these kids something that they love to be able to continue to do.”
The IHSA does recognize eight-man football with currently six teams in the state.