High school football can send a rush of nostalgia through people: memories of Friday night lights, warm letter-mans jackets and bursting school pride. Former players recall the rush felt hearing their names called in the starting lineup, the scent of sweat and grass transports them back in time.
Songs have even been written about the glory days of high school football, like Kenny Chesney’s “Boys of Fall” which can be found here.
While many fans are accustomed to seeing eleven men on each side of the line of scrimmage, some may be surprised to learn of a lesser-known version of the sport—where each school sends its six best players onto the field to execute its offense and defense.
That’s right. 6-man football.
You can find these unique games taking place at many small, rural Colorado schools on a Friday night, the whole town cheering along the sidelines. Because many small schools lack enough students to maintain an 11-man program, each fall teenage boys from across the state work hard to achieve a 6-man state championship for their team, school and community.
“I love that it’s exciting and that things can change quickly,” said Justin Kerns, head coach of the 6-man program at Prairie High School in New Raymer, Colorado. “You can be up twenty points at the first quarter and at half be down twenty points.”
The scoring system and format of the game has a lot to do with this. 6-man football is played on an 80-yard field, all players are eligible receivers (far different from 11-man), field goals are worth four points rather than three, and extra-point kicks are worth two instead of one.
“In 6-man you have to pay attention to everyone on the field,” stated Prairie High School senior quarterback, Mitch Dollerschell. “Everybody just has more responsibility in 6-man. If one person misses a tackle, it’s going to be a touchdown.”
High scoring games is a main characteristic of 6-man football—with final scores reaching 50 or 60 points regularly. The running aspect of the game, with fewer men on the field, is largely responsible for high scoring.
“6-man football is more like football, basketball, and track put together. If you could get a really high-quality athlete who has the stamina to go both ways—offense and defense—you use them,”Kerns said. “There’s so much more open space on the field. One player can change the entire outcome of the game.”
Offenses normally contain a quarterback, center, left end, right end, halfback and a fullback, depending on its formation. Defenses use a nose guard, two defensive ends, middle linebacker and two defensive backs—with the option of playing a safety in place of one.
“A defensive end is like the Von Miller in 6-man football,” Dollerschell added, referring to the Denver Broncos outside linebacker and sacks leader.
“The thing that he doesn’t like about 6-man is that he wishes he would play 11-man so he would have a better opportunity for scholarship at a bigger college,” said Roz Long, whose son Andy is a sophomore on Prairie’s team.
While 6-man football presents a certain charm and special atmosphere, it does have some drawbacks—especially when it comes to the recruitment process. With 6-man having different rules and taking place in small, middle-of-nowhere towns, large D1 programs rarely send recruiters to look for talent. In fact, some may be shocked to learn 6-man football even exists.
“I don’t think colleges acknowledge 6 or 8-man football as being somewhere that they can locate players,” Kerns mentioned when discussing the recruitment process. “It’s hard to scout kids at really small schools. The big colleges I think completely disregard 6-man.”
Prairie’s head coach went on to explain that smaller DII schools are better recruitment prospects because of the exposure they have to 6-man programs. Prairie, along with other small teams, often attend summer football camps at schools like Chadron State College or Western Colorado University, where they can exhibit their skills and potential to coaches at the next level. It is here that coaches for these collegiate programs witness the big talent that can come from little places.
Small Town Charm
Despite the obstacles that may come with trying to play at the next level, the athletes in many 6-man programs have an encouraging, very supportive community rooting them on. In Prairie’s case, members of the area ranging from 70-year-old farmers to a 2-month-old baby can be found watching from the sidelines. The entire community gathers at Roger Sorensen Field on Friday nights to show its pride and support for the young men representing its culture.
“The whole community comes to support their team,” Long explained, having served as one of the main photographers at Prairie’s sporting events for the past couple of years. “Everybody knows everybody and its neighbor helping neighbor. Small community is like a big family.”
The Prairie Mustangs are currently 4-2 on the season but plan to make a big statement in the latter half of the season. Their schedule and more statistics for the team can be found here. The players, coaches and fans all have high hopes for the season.
“We have the potential to be in the state championship game,” Dollerschell concluded.