Alcona hopes for strong finish to debut 8-Player football season
LINCOLN — As the 8-Player game continues to change the landscape in high school football, countless teams have opted to make the shift over from 11-Player. The Tigers joined the mix of the ever-expanding field of 8-man teams in the state this fall, and so far, the reviews have been glowing.
“We have had a couple hiccups here and there, but for the most part, we have been pretty successful,” Alcona coach Jason Somers said. “I like the fact that we have our JV squad back; that has been the best thing about going to 8-man.”
Eight-Player football has been around in Michigan since 2009, but the Tigers’ case is a bit more unique. For years they were a team that prided themselves on running the ultimate smashmouth full house offense. Now, they’ll gladly throw the ball over the field with the best of them.
“I’m really happy, this is all new to us, we have been three yards and a cloud of dust since I’ve played here,” Somers, a 1996 Alcona grad, said. “Our quarterback is averaging about 250 yards a game over the last five games, so we are scoring there and getting scoring from the running game. Our kids feel like they are never out of a game now. When we ran (our old offense) sometimes if you got down three scores it was really hard to come back. Now, if they get down three scores they are still in the game with the quick strike capability. I think that keeps them energized and they really seem to like this since it is something new and a little bit different.”
While the Tigers 62-0 win over Whittemore-Prescott on Friday put their record to 3-4 on the year, the offensive numbers are hard to ignore. They’ve averaged 36 points a game and freshman quarterback Garrett Somers has already thrown for a school-record 1,511 yards and 15 touchdowns, completing 89-of-144 passes.
Senior Gavin Walker has 45 receptions, just two away from a single-season school record. His 795 receiving yards and seven touchdowns are believed to be school records as well. Michael Basner, Collin Walker and Jeremiah Bullis all have at least 160 yards receiving and two touchdowns as well, giving the Tigers’ passing game a well-rounded attack.
“It seems like passing is more of a threat for us, and for other teams,” Walker said. “11-man it was more rushing, but coming into 8-man it has been more passing. Garrett and I, we see eye-to-eye. I have known him for a long time and this summer, like non-stop we were passing and working out every week and trying to get better and better. It seems to be working out right now.”
The fact that Garrett Somers is already rewriting the record books at Alcona should come as no surprise. The coaches’ son has seemingly been around the game his whole life.
“He and I talk a lot about football,” Somers said. “He has been in the locker room now for six or seven years and he really understands the game, so it isn’t too fast for him right now and I think that is one of the biggest things. We were holding him back at the beginning of the season, but the coaches just kept giving him more and more and that just speaks volumes to him as a young man and to be honest with you our offensive coordinator Rob McGuire should get a lot of credit for getting him to do so well.”
All this goes without mentioning that Basner has already rushed for nearly 700 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.
“Basner is just a really, really tough runner and gives you everything he has on every play,” Somers said. “Gavin Walker is really explosive and he can take the top off the defense at any times, so that is fun. Someone we haven’t (seen much) is his brother Collin, they have the best hands on the team but unfortunately, we just don’t have enough footballs to go around. I see him being a really big threat next year. We have tons and tons of talent here and we just have to get more adapt at this game and be more precise in doing the things we’ve never done before.”
The Tigers have four losses this season, although three of those are to undefeated teams in Rogers City, Inland Lakes, and Au Gres. Their other loss was to a solid Merrill club.
“We are playing some good competition, I’m not too worried about the wins and losses this year, we are just adapting,” Jason Somers said. “Five out of our eight starters on both sides of the ball are freshmen and sophomores so it looks pretty exciting for Alcona over the next few years.”
With a high school enrollment of 228, the Tigers sit just 13 students above the 215 cutoff that the MHSAA set for 8-Player teams to be eligible for the post-season. While the Tigers already know they won’t be playoff bound this fall, that doesn’t mean they are already peaking ahead at the off-season.
“We talked about this, and for the seniors how the difference between four wins and five wins is huge,” Somers said. “We put the challenge out to the seniors and put it out there and asked ‘how do you guys want to be remembered for your first year of 8-man football?’ It is a great challenge but we have some great seniors so hopefully we answer that call.”