Eight Ball

Where populations are low, small-scale football is big
October 15, 2006

EIGHT-MANfootball can be tough to picture if you've never visited the Great Plains. SoGrant Levin, Kensington (Kans.) High's star senior tailback and linebacker,created a visual aid to help him land a scholarship. Levin put together a11/2-hour DVD of personal highlights for Division I colleges. "I wanted toshow that I could play anywhere," Levin says.

The brand offootball coaches see on Levin's disc may look like a novelty, but it isactually a necessity in states such as Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas, wherepopulations have declined because of changing agricultural conditions, mainlythe rise of corporate farming. Some parts of Wyoming and Montana have combinedtwo or more schools to form eight-man teams (see box). The game isn't a toughsell. "There aren't a whole lot of other things to do here," says JerryVoorhees, the coach at Kensington, a school with about 40 high-school-age boys."If you're not playing sports, you're probably working on a farm."

Prairie-styleeight-man, like the eight-man played in 14 states, adheres to most of the rulesof regular football--though the field is 40 yards shorter and 13 1/3 yardsnarrower. There are five down linemen, and everyone plays both ways. Onoffense, players at either end of the line are eligible receivers. Having sixfewer players opens up the field and results in more scoring.

Kansas enforces amercy rule: If a team gets ahead by 45 points in the second half, the game isover. In its first five games this season, undefeated Kensington has seen thethird quarter only twice. Levin has made a habit of putting games out of reach.His solid 6'2", 185-pound frame and 4.47 speed have served him on bothsides of the ball: He has 27 tackles and three interceptions and leads the teamin rushing (with 698 yards on 36 carries) and touchdowns (23). Kansas, KansasState and Missouri are among the schools to express interest in him sinceseeing his highlight reel. His toughest adjustment in college, he says, will besitting for part of the game. "It'll definitely be easier to play one sideof the ball," Levin says, "but it won't be nearly as fun."

Urge to Merge

FOOTBALL COOPERATIVES--in which two or more smallschools get together to form one team--are more the rule than the exception inMontana, the nation's 44th-most-populous state: 110 of its 148 football schoolshave formed co-ops since the state pioneered the idea in the 1950s. WhenMedicine Lake joined with Froid (12 miles apart in northeast Montana) a decadeago, the biggest challenge was starting a new athletic tradition. The schoolsalready shared the same colors (red, black and white), but neither wanted togive up its nickname (Froid was the Cardinals; Medicine Lake, the Honkers).Students eventually voted for a third option: the Red Hawks (left). "Ratherthan lose our identity," says Dave Kloker, Medicine Lake's principal,"we created a new one." .

PHOTOJULIE KUHLMANN (LEVIN)LIVING LARGE Levin hopes to join 1994 Heisman winner Rashaan Salaam as one of the best to emerge from eight-man. PHOTOSTEVE KASCHT

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)