Last offseason the coaching staff at Allegany-Limestone had to look deep into their program and decide what was the best course of action for a prosperous future. The conclusion was 8-man football, a growing trend throughout New York State for smaller schools with low numbers that would rather keep their identity then merge with other schools.
After the 2022 season, the Gators graduated 19 seniors off of their 25 man roster. With only 8 remaining players, the program was at a crossroads.
“We began sitting down with our athletic director and coaching staff and looked at all of the options,” Head Coach Marcus Grove said. “We looked at mergers, we looked at how we could make 11 man football work, and eventually fell on 8-man football. We wrote all of the options on the board, and brought our seniors in for this season and explained all the options to them. We gave them Thanksgiving break to decide what direction they would like to head, as ultimately, it is their program. We as a coaching staff are just here to guide them. They came back with a unanimous decision to move to 8-man football. They wanted to keep our identity, they wanted to finish their careers playing for Allegany-Limestone Football, all things that were not guaranteed under a merger.”
So far, the decision has seemed to pay off. The team rattled off four straight wins before finally losing to Caledonia-Mumford (Section V) last weekend.
The Gators aren’t the only team Section VI team playing an 8-man format, Frewsburg has returned after a one-year hiatus.
The Bears would have played 8-man last season had Section V made room. Due to an even number of teams in Section V, the governing body advised Frewsburg they would not be part of their scheduling plans. Frewsburg assumed an 11-man schedule back in Section VI and had their share of struggles. Enter 2023 and with AL accepting an 8-Man format, Frewsburg is back playing where they feel most competitive.
“We had some discussions with Frewsburg about 8-man football,” Grove said. ”We reached out to them because we knew that they had done it before, and they had given us some advice back. Shortly after us reaching out, they also let us know that they were trending to head this direction as well.”
Grove credited Steve Smith, head coach at Bolivar-Richburg for helping he and his staff assimilate into the 8-man format.
“(Steven) Smith sent us film to study how the 8-man game was played,” Grove said, “and he also gave helpful pointers and suggestions that he wished he would've known before they made the change last year. This helped us through the process of transitioning from 11-man to 8-man.”
One of those AL seniors making an impact is Michael Frederick. Through five games, Frederick has been a dual-threat accounting for 14 touchdowns and almost 1200 yards of offense.
Sharing in the offensive production is Kevin Edwards-Hardy. Another standout senior that plays running back and linebacker. Edwards-Hardy leads the team in tackles with 47. He’s carried the ball 56 times for 470 yards and seven touchdowns, and added three more receiving TDs.
Senior Devon Bish is the anchor of the offensive and defensive lines. Bish has recorded five sacks and is the teams second leading tackler.
Sophomore Mat Burnett has also stepped up in a big way according to coach Grove. Burnett has returned two punts to the house this season along with 11 rushing touchdowns.
“We were unsure of how this would go, there were definitely nerves throughout the entire offseason and summer about how this would play out and how it would be received by our kids. Thankfully, our kids have received it well. 8-man football is still football. There is still offense, defense, special teams, and penalties. This is still tackle football. It’s played on a skinnier field width wise, the same 120 yard length, with three less guys on each side. For us, it was a way to continue to play football for Allegany-Limestone without losing our identity. Our kids are proud to be Allegany-Limestone football players, and they have embraced the change to 8-man football. It has been a good move so far for our program to make this switch. The fact that we still have a program is one of the many positive factors.”
The Gators have another tough assignment this weekend when they take on NYSSWA No. 1 ranked Pembroke (5-0).