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Ty Coon and the Union Bobcats will return to 11-man football this season after spending the last two years playing the 8-man game. Union opens the season at home against McLoughlin Sept. 3. (Observer file photo)
Union, Elgin changing classifications for upcoming season
While everyone waits for the Oregon Schools Activities Association to institute the new classifications for the 2014 season, the Blue Mountain Conference will see a shake-up this fall.
Making a move back to the BMC will be Union. The Bobcats dropped down to 8-man football, playing an independent schedule in 2010.
“Since the season I took over the team, I’ve been trying or at least wanting to get back to 11-man football,” Union head coach John Reynolds said. “That’s the game I’m more comfortable with.
“Plus, the incentives are there for the kids.”
While playing as an independent, athletes were not voted to all-conference teams and the team was not eligible for postseason play.
The Bobcats lost a few players over those three seasons. Athletes transferred to other 8-man schools in order to take part in postseason play.
Union went 4-22 over its three seasons of 8-man football, going winless in the first two seasons. The Bobcats ended the drought with a 22-0 win over Pine Eagle at home.
“It’s a different game,” Reynolds said. “And I think we have athletes more adept to playing the 11-man game.
“In 8-man, it’s player versus player and speed will win out. Going back to the 11-on-11 scheme, we can work more as a team with zone blocking.”
That’s not to say that Union won’t have a few hurdles to clear in its return to the BMC.
The conference was represented by four teams in the 16-team playoff bracket, with two teams making the quarterfinals.
“It’s a very balanced league,” Reynolds said. “We know it’s going to take some time to get to where we want to be.
“Plus, we’ll be going into the season without a member of the football team playing in an 11-man game in their high-school career. They’re all willing to work hard, though, and that’s what it’s going to take.”
With Union returning to the BMC, Elgin will take a hiatus for a season or two.
Sports fans that followed the Huskies last season will remember the struggle just to find the end zone. It took Elgin five games to get points on the board, and the Huskies finished the season 1-8, with the lone win via a forfeit against Stanfield.
Just looking at the box score, it doesn’t look great. But, when you looked to the sideline, you saw all you needed to. Or, actually you didn’t see much.
“The numbers have been down the last few seasons with all the turnover we’ve had at the coaching position,” Elgin head coach Brock Eckstein said. “There’s been a big lull in the number of kids coming out for all sports. For the last game of the season, we dressed 13 players against Pilot Rock. They had three times that number on their sideline. You just can’t keep up. We had a few players that played every snap last season.”
While the OSAA looks to have Elgin in the BMC after the adjustments to the classifications, Eckstein isn’t sure whether they’ll petition for another season of 8-man after this one.
The enrollment cutoff being proposed by the committee under the new classification structure is 90 students. Currently, Elgin is projected to have 111 enrolled for classes.
“We’re going to try and reload,” Eckstein said. “But we’ll have to wait and see what the numbers are like.”
The coach is optimistic given the turnout at the football camp put on by the high school team.
Thirty kids have shown up to help with the camp and hopefully that translates to numbers on the field this season.
“I ran it last season. This year I turned a lot of the responsibility over to the kids,” Eckstein said. “We have some kids that are helping as part of their senior projects. I’m thinking most, if not all of them, will be on the field when we start practice in a couple weeks.
“The camp for the young kids will hopefully help generate interest with the kids so that when they get to high school, they’ll be out on the field.”
Elgin has taken part in 8-man football camps over the summer, like the one in Cove, to get prepared for this season.
The Huskies have eight games on the schedule for this season, opening on the road against Pine Eagle Sept. 6. Eckstein is worried that an issue he didn’t have last season will be a problem with the change in players allowed on the field this fall.
“I’m hoping I have to sit people,” the coach said. “It will be nice to have depth again. It’s going to be a change for the players coming back. They’re not going to know what to think.”