There might not be a football team in the Southern Plains - Iroquois Activities Association making a bigger change to how it plays football from 2017 to 2018 than the Ashland High School Bluejays.
Hodgeman County is moving up to 8-Man DI from 8-Man DII, Spearville has a new head football coach, but Ashland is making a bigger change than both.
They’re dropping from eight-man to six-man, starting in 2018.
Last year wasn’t easy on the Bluejays. Their numbers were low, head coach Ben Fox said.
“I think maybe we started the year with seven but an injury and ineligibility, we were playing the last three games with nine guys,” Fox said.
Now the team has been working on making its transition. Six-man football is a different style of football both in terms of rules and what works or doesn’t strategically, even from eight-man football.
Over the summer, the team went to a six-man camp and played a couple of teams from Nebraska, including one that was a state runner-up Fox said, and another team from Kansas.
That helped them learn and practice executing the six-man style of football, Fox said. Practices have also improved going into the 2018 season.
"We felt we were pretty competitive at that six-man camp, especially for the first time our boys had ever seen (a) live snap in six-man,” Fox said. “So we're more optimistic about this year. We were talking about it at practice: It's been a lot more productive this year."
The team graduated three seniors last year, but with the drop, Fox said that only leaves one spot open to fill, and this season the team currently has 14 players, allowing Fox and the coaching staff to run a full offense against a full defense in practice.
Last year, when the Bluejays knew they’d be moving down to six-man, Fox said he took the team out to Dodge City to watch the (non KSHSAA sanctioned) state championship game and third-place game there.
"That was pretty cool for them,” Fox said. “They got to see a little bit of a game last year at the end of the year. I think that kind of got them excited about it. They got to talking and got a few more boys out."
Among the teams they watched: SPIAA foe Pawnee Heights, which beat Cheylin 62-12, and who the Bluejays will have to face in week four this upcoming season.
“Not that we're looking forward past the first couple of games, but it's definitely on our radar,” Fox said. “Our boys play basketball against 'em all year and track against 'em, so they're pretty familiar with 'em and I think they're pretty excited about it.”
The Bluejays open their season on the road at 5 p.m. Aug. 31 against Natoma. They open up at home Sept. 7 when they host Western Plains.