A return to the past with the future in mind might be a good way to describe the current football program at the Innisfail Junior/Senior High School.
Nine man football is making an appearance, decades after arriving for the first time and a couple of years following the collapse of the 12 man program which began in 2003.
“After the first year of having 50 bodies we were always playing the numbers game. So we’d have 22, 24, 25 people and it’s tough to do that with 12 man. You get injuries and stuff like that,” said coach Trevor Wooff.
Last winter some of the players who were with the team in its final year took it upon themselves to canvas the school population, recruiting players for football.
The next step was to approach the coach and lay out their idea to rekindle the excitement surrounding the game.
“So we got about 30 or 40 guys who showed some interest and we had a spring camp and we basically said if we have 20 or above we’ll play nine man. If we have above 25 or 30 we’ll look at 12 man.”
They didn’t get the numbers for the 12 man program but there were 22 players interested in the game to move ahead with an application to play in the Mountain View Nine Man Football Conference which welcomed the Cyclones with open arms.
The five team league includes Didsbury, Sundre, Carstairs and Drayton Valley with the season wrapping up near the end of October. Players can be drawn from Grades 9 to 12 who are under the age of 18 as of Sept. 1st each year.
The Cyclones opened up against a team from Edmonton which won the league last season but has since run into some financial difficulties and folded operations.
“It was good though, we had the usual first game jitters and mistakes but we ended up winning 12-7,” said Wooff.
Because the Cyclones had played in the 12 man league earlier there was plenty of equipment and uniforms to go around which has never been an issue for the Innisfail football team.
“When we started out in 2003 we had huge community support and we had 55 guys. I originally bought 50 sets of equipment and then I ended up turning around and buying another 10.”
The players come into the nine man game having played 12 man through the Innisfail peewee and bantam system so there is a little adjusting to be done in order to be competitive but football is football and this brand does allow for more field to play with having six fewer bodies out there.
There is also a bit of a learning curve for the players and coaches as to what can and can’t be done under the rules.
“The team we played last week gave us a lot of different looks (alignment) and we said ‘Hey, we can do that?’,” he laughed.
He says now he spends plenty of time on the Internet and talking to people about nine man football and learning what can be done on the field.
The main thing with this program is to see it take hold, grow in interest and maybe expand at some point but for now it’s all about having fun and playing football, he said.