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Newcomers to six-player football adjust to new rules, concepts and styles of the game

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Six-player football set for first KSHSAA-sanctioned championship season

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By Rick Peterson, Jr. – KSHSAA Covered

A 33-year coaching veteran, Greg Woolf is getting acquainted with the subtle – and not-so-subtle – nuances of six-player football.

Woolf is taking over head coaching duties at Triplains/Brewster as the Titans make the move down to six-player football, which is entering its first year with a KSHSAA-sanctioned championship.

On offense, Woolf is planning on using some of the staples he’s found success with throughout his career, which included guiding Quinter to an Eight-Player Division I state championship in 2009.

Defensively? Well, it’s been an adjustment for Woolf, a newcomer to the six-player game.

“The offensive side, I’ve enjoyed that aspect of it, just because the game opens up a little bit. The other side of the ball, I’ll tell you this, it’s terrifying,” Woolf said with a laugh.

One of the biggest differences in six-player football is that every player on the field is an eligible receiver. First downs are 15 yards instead of 10.

“If I run up against a coach that knows how to use guards and centers (in the passing game), how do you guard against having this big of a field (40 yards wide, 80 yards long) with six guys? You really don’t have the third level, with your strong safeties and free safeties,” Woolf said. “You have a second level, barely, and then people are out the door.

“It definitely puts an emphasis on open-field tackling and getting ahold of somebody and getting to the ball.”

Waverly coach Nick Fraenza agreed.

“On defense, you have to fill all those holes,” Fraenza said. “Wide-open space is going to be an issue, and we’re trying to figure out all of those holes.

“Even in six-man games I saw last year, teams lost the center in coverage because he didn’t go out, didn’t go out, didn’t go out, and then all the sudden, he’s sprinting down the field.”

Triplains/Brewster and Waverly are among 11 teams heading to the six-player level full-time after the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s Board of Directors approved the sport for championship status beginning with this season. Twenty-six teams are expected to play at the six-player level this year.

While Woolf and Fraenza both acknowledged the learning curve, they also sense the excitement as their programs enter a new era.

“Every day we’re figuring out more and more as we see things live in practice,” Fraenza said. “We had things that we thought would work right off the bat, and we figured out that it has to change a little bit. Overall, the kids are picking it up. It’s smoother than it probably could have been.”

“I’ve coached 11-man for several years and I’ve coached eight-man for about half of my career,” said Woolf, who served as an assistant at Triplains/Brewster the last two years and has made coaching stops at Colby, Eudora and Syracuse in addition to his long tenure at Quinter.

“Shoot, this is keeping it exciting for me. It kind of takes me back to the times where there were some unknowns. I very much have enjoyed it.”

In the six-player game, there must be a clean exchange of the football before it can be advanced. The player who receives the snap must hand off, pitch or throw the ball to another player before moving the ball past the line of scrimmage.

“During our summer workouts, we’ve been really hammering all that out with the handoff,” Fraenza said. “We’ve been hammering home that you can’t take off if you don’t hand the ball off, or toss it. We’ve got our fair share of plays where we do that, but where our quarterback’s got to understand he can’t just take off like he did last year.”

Woolf plans to incorporate a veer attack.

“I have fun with offenses,” Woolf said. “I’ve always ran a lot of option. I like the veer. I’ve still kind of built everything around that. The challenge there would be the person who takes the direct snap obviously can’t run, so it’s difficult to get a triple option in, but we’re finding that you can get a double option in pretty quick. I’ve gone back and watched Cheylin in their (Wild West Bowl title win) in 2020, and they did a lot of that.

“I’m having trouble with the concept of guards and centers being eligible, so that really hasn’t entered into any of the play calling. That’s the difficult part.”

There’s a sizeable incentive to utilize place-kicking in the six-player game. Field goals are worth four points and a kicked PAT is worth two points, while a PAT off a run or pass is worth one point.

“There’s a lot more kicking in six-man than there is in eight-man, for sure,” Fraenza said. “I don’t know where the six-man teams find their kickers. They find them for six-man, but not for eight-man. We’ve said, ‘Somebody needs to learn how to kick.’ That would be a big, big weapon.”

Woolf has that weapon in his son, Brock Woolf, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound versatile senior who will be the Titans’ primary passer and lead blocker.

“Brock’s a really good field-goal kicker,” Greg Woolf said. “We’ve been working him out from 40 yards, actually. He’s not 100 percent at 40, but he’s putting them in.”

Woolf said he’s come to realize that kickoffs must not come up short of the endzone when teams elect to kick it deep.

“If you kick it deep and you don’t get it into the end zone, it’s a track meet trying to get to them,” he said. “One or two missed tackles, or missteps, they’re gone.”

Previously existing six-player football programs include Ashland, Burrton, Cunningham, Cheylin, Deerfield, Golden Plains, Greeley County, Moscow, Natoma, Northern Valley, Pawnee Heights, Rolla and Weskan, though Weskan is no longer a KSHSAA-member school. Centre and Western Plains/Healy also played partial six-player schedules last year.

In addition to Triplains/Brewster and Waverly, other newcomers include Altoona-Midway, Chase, Chetopa, Ingalls, Peabody-Burns, Southern Coffey County, Southern Cloud, Tescott and Wetmore.

Natoma captured the six-player football championship last year in the Wild West Bowl, defeating Cunningham 60-12 for the title. The undefeated Tigers put up 58.7 points per game. High-scoring outputs are common in the six-player game, with speed often more valuable than size.

Ashland took third place at the Wild West Bowl with a 39-38 win over Northern Valley last year.

KSHSAA’s six-player football championship will be held at Dodge City’s Memorial Stadium on Nov. 26.

Waverly had the best 2021 record of any team making the move to six-player, going 7-2 last year. The Bulldogs return five starters including junior quarterback Ben Meehan.

“We’re hoping to be pretty dandy,” said Fraenza, whose team opens at Southern Coffey County on Friday. “We’re definitely thinking that we should have a good chance to hopefully get pretty deep, God willing. Our goal is to be playing on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

“There’s going to be a lot of growing pains, a lot of bumps and bruises along the way, but I think we have a decent shot to go pretty deep.”

Woolf said he thought the move down to six-player was an easy decision for Triplains/Brewster to make.

“I’ve been around the game long enough to know it’s hard to run eight-man football when you’re only getting 10, 12 kids out,” Woolf said. “I could see the handwriting on the wall.

“I can’t see any other way we could’ve done it to be halfway competitive, and we will be. As long as we stay healthy, my top six kids, I’m very pleased with how well they’re playing.”

Fraenza, who is entering his fourth year as head coach at Waverly, said the initial reaction to the Bulldogs’ move to six-player football was mixed, but the community has since come around to embracing the change.

“When I talk to them and explain that this is keeping us on the field and getting our little kids excited about seeing Waverly football so they can grow up to be Waverly football players, they usually come around to seeing that this is probably the best option for us right now,” Fraenza said. “You always hear that six-man football is not real football and that it’s just going to be sandlot. I’ve watched the good teams on tape, and it’s not (sandlot).”

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Derek Nester
Derek Nesterhttps://sunflowerstateradio.com
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2021 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.

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