Hayden coach Shawn Baumgartner delivers a playcall to his team during a scrimmage Friday in Hayden. The Tigers are switching to 8-man football this year after declining enrollment pushed the school below the state’s 11-man classifications.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Hayden coach Shawn Baumgartner delivers a playcall to his team during a scrimmage Friday in Hayden. The Tigers are switching to 8-man football this year after declining enrollment pushed the school below the state’s 11-man classifications.

Hayden adapting to 8-man football

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— They’re not near “figured” yet.

The Hayden High School football team has encountered its fair share of struggles as it begins to make the switch from 11-man football to 8-man football, a change that officially will take hold this fall. The team spent the past week working through its offseason camp, trying to come to terms with the adjustments.

It’s taken some time to adapt to the new formations and new position responsibilities.

The field, 13 yards narrower than a traditional field, has required a bit of adapting to, as well.

“We didn’t set up cones and measure it right away, but then someone asked, so we set it up,” Tigers coach Shawn Baumgartner said. “Pretty much every pass we completed at our first practice would have been out of bounds.”

After a week of work, the Hayden High School football team hesitated to say it had figured out 8-man football.

“More like ‘figuring,’” the group decided near the end of its final practice.

Hayden began its camp June 15, with a workout that day representing the team’s first chance to implement the changes that have occupied many a Tiger’s mind since last year, when the school made official its decision to drop a classification in the sport.

Although Hayden is among the last Class 2A schools to join a trend that has swept through Northwest Colorado, few of the team’s players or coaches have ever even seen an 8-man game.

Baumgartner and a few players got their only exposure when they caught a few minutes of the cross-divisional game that ended Soroco’s season last fall.

The coach has tried to compensate.

“I’ve spent all summer working on it,” Baumgartner said. “We took a trip to Nebraska in March for an 8-man football clinic and we picked up a lot there. There were coaches from Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas, a lot of guys who’ve gone from 11-man to 8-man, and we got to talk about what the biggest adjustments were.”

That clinic also loaded the Hayden staff down with game tapes and coaching contacts, both of which Baumgartner has been mining trying to figure it all out.

The first few days of this week’s camp left the Tigers to work through their problems themselves. The latter half, however, brought other teams into the mix. Hayden, Meeker, Rangely and Gilpin County — all 8-man squads — came together in Hayden along with 6-man team Little Snake River out of Baggs, Wyo., for three days of scrimmages.

The battles helped reinforce some of the unwritten rules of 8-man football. Small mistakes on defense frequently turn into big plays and quick points for the other side, but that’s not always the end of the world. The other team’s defense is likely just as porous.

The angles all change for a tailback or a running quarterback when it comes to hitting a certain hole or getting around the line.

And don’t forget: That sideline approaches quicker than expected. Friday’s action wrapped up the team’s on-the-field efforts for the summer, but the work won’t stop there. There’s more tape to study for Baumgartner and weights to lift for the team.

Hayden is dropping directly from the Class 2A playoffs, where it won a game last year, to the 8-man ranks. The squad may be figuring out a new style, but it’s got the same expectations.

“Our expectations are pretty high,” Hayden’s Daniel Engle said. “We’re expecting to go to state.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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