Compare and contrast
We examine the key differences between 11-man and 6-man football
Every offseason brings about change in some way, form or fashion in the football world. Most recently being Mike Reed, six-year head coach of the successful 6-man Throckmorton Greyhounds. He will pack his bags and move 140 miles south to take over the 2A Hamilton Bulldogs in 2014.
Making the move from coaching 6-man football in small towns like Rule (pop. 637) and Throckmorton (pop. 808) to going to 11-man in Hamilton (pop. 3,016) seems like it would be a big move for Reed. But that’s not necessarily the case.
“It’s been the same, very consistent,” Reed said. “The kid’s attitudes have been the same, the coaching mentality has been the same, so no, there hasn’t been anything I’ve had to really gear my brain around.”
Having been around both 6-man and 11-man whether it be coaching or playing, it won’t take Reed long to adjust. But lets go ahead and compare two sides of the same sport.
To start off, how would one describe 6-man football?
Sixmanfootball.com writer Leman Saunders has this to say: “Take away all the linemen, make your tight end your center, and tell the quarterback that he can’t run without the ball changing hands first. On the other side of the ball, 6-man defense is made up of linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties.”
But for a sport that is so popular in Texas, 6-man football actually originated in Chester, Nebraska in 1933 during the Great Depression. Stephen Epler, the father of 6-man football, came up with the new concept because Chester High had a very low number of students but wanted to be able to field a football team.
Epler decided that six men on the field was a perfect amount because it would allow for an even split of ends and the backfield. The Depression hit school enrollments hard in the 30s and during that time, more Nebraska schools were playing 6-man than 11-man.
It only took four years — spring of 1938 — until 6-man football made its way to Texas with Prairie Lea and Martindale as the first ever matchup. Little is known about this game itself, but UIL officials must have liked what they saw because after that, 6-man was officially sanctioned for the fall of 1938.
The offenses 6-man and 11-man teams ran weren’t always that different. Back in the 60s and 70s, 11-man football was very run-heavy with formations like the Wishbone, Pro formation and Wing T. Now, not so much.
“Everyone is going to a more spread type of offense and not running the old blocking schemes, Split Back Veer or the triple option out of the Wishbone,” Denton High School head coach Kevin Atkinson said.
While 11-man seems to be moving on, 6-man teams continue to stick to an offense centered around running the football. Aspermont coach Zach Morris likes to run a lot of tight sets that include unbalanced or stacked lines in order keep hammering the ball downfield and creating more space. That in turn helped 6-man football gain the reputation of being able to play very quickly.
“It’s really fast,” Aspermont running back Cory Myers said. “We play so fast on offense and hardly ever pass or go from a gun.”
The offensive play count for a 6-man game is drastically lower than that of an 11-man game. Reed talked about how Stephenville years ago would total an offensive play count in the high 60s or low 70s where a 6-man team would have less than 20. That is because a lot of the time, 6-man scoring will happen on kickoff returns, punt returns or have one play drives.
“Also, 11-man will always play four quarters of football,” Reed said. “6-man you won’t because they will shut it down at halftime.” (We’ll get to this soon).
Playing defense in 6-man consists of a lot of man-to-man coverage. Even though the field is 20 yards shorter, each defender still has a good amount of space to cover. If a running back gets loose then one defender has the responsibility to take him down or it’s six points. 11-man is more of each defender covering his assigned area.
“Defense in 11-man is directly correlated to gap control, every boy is assigned a gap from the defensive linemen to the linebackers,” Atkinson said.
Another difference is in 11-man, you have players on the roster who will only play one side of the ball. With 6-man that is not possible because of the low number of players. Atkinson said he will have close to 300 football players — not all on the roster of course — come out where as Aspermont had 15 guys show up for its first workout last week.
“You don’t have offensive and defensive players,” Morris said. “Generally, your best players will play both sides of the ball and that’s the way you have to do it.”
One thing 6-man football is known for across the state and the nation are high-scoring games. It is not out of the ordinary for teams to score 50-60 points a game. To go to an extreme, in 2011, Throckmorton beat Fort Davis, 104-82.
“Smaller numbers and spacing contributes to a lot of that,” Morris said. “One person has a lot more space to cover and every person is eligible to score at any time. That is tough for defenses to prevent.”
Scores also can accumulate quickly because a PAT (point after touchdown) is worth two instead of the regular one in 11-man. Standard field goals are not worth three points but four, but in the fast-paced world of 6-man football, these are more rare.
6-man football also holds a mercy rule where if one side is up by 45 points then the game is called at halftime. In 2011, Aspermont took on Paint Creek, but the game was called at the half because the Hornets were up 77-6.
Coaches and players alike are big fans of the 45-point mercy rule on account of injury prevention and not wanting to get beat by an absurd amount of points.
“At this level where you are getting beat by 45 points with seven players, one of them could get hurt,” Morris said.
This past June, the UIL committee voted down a proposal to incorporate a mercy rule to 11-man football after Aledo beat Western Hills 91-0 back in October. Reed said he is glad that the mercy rule will not be brought to 11-man because it is easier to slow the game down and kill the clock than it is in 6-man.
11-man teams can run dive plays for short yardage to keep the clock running and keep the score from reaching too high of a number. Also, more players who go to practice each and every day, but might not be in the starting lineup, get a chance to get in the game.
“It is good in 6-man because you have no depth,” Reed said. “Whereas in 11-man, you have the ability to get those kids whose parents drove three hours to watch them play in the game.”
The game day atmosphere is an area where you wouldn’t think there would be a difference between the two forms of football. But that is a yes and no answer. On Friday nights, each stadium is buzzing with excitement, but there is still one tiny difference.
Since 6-man schools are made up of small towns, the entire community is going to show up on Friday night to pack the stadium in support of their team. In terms of percentage of the towns population turning out for a game, 6-man has the upper hand on many 11-man schools. To sum it up in one word: community.
High schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are losing that sense of community because there are so many high schools in one city. For example, Frisco has seven high schools.
“Really the people that are attending those games are parents of the band and players,” Reed said. “They are directly involved in some way.”
On other hand, take a town like Aspermont, the entire city will show because they want to support their school and because it is a tight-knit community. From experience of watching the Hornets play, not only was the stadium packed, but there were people who had no affiliation with either side who traveled to watch the game. They were there just support a fellow 6-man community.
“That is their entertainment, that is their drive-in movie for the night,” Reed said. “Whether they have a kid involved or not, that is their social hour.”
While 6-man and 11-man seem further apart than they actually are, the two are to this day playing its part to further promote the game of football in a state that thrives of what happens on the gridiron on Friday nights.
Jordan Ottaway is a special contributor to TexasFootball.com.
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