DODGE CITY, Kan. - "It's still football. There's still hard hits, blocking and tackling."
That's from Ashland head coach Ben Fox, who's Blue Jay team just completed a turnaround going from a 1-8 year playing 8-man football in 2017 to an 8-1 season and third place finish in their first year of playing 6-man.
Fox sees it growing, with his program possibly serving as a blueprint for success after making the switch.
"It's got to grow because 8-man teams are hurting. I know some teams like us, we need some success too. I think that's why Pawnee Heights has stuck with it so long, they saw some success."
Pawnee Heights has been playing 6-man football for three years now, falling to Ashland in the third place game after winning the 2017 title. They've made national headlines recently for their game with Cheylin in the first round of the playoffs, a game the Tigers won 118-85. Kade Scott, a senior that was named the offensive player of the year Saturday, scored 14 touchdowns in the game. That set a state record.
"That was insane. I've never been a part of something like that," said Scott.
For the Weskan Coyotes, the move to 6 man has paid off to the tune of two titles in three years under head coach Brett Clow.
"I can tell you, this group, we've been on this run that I never could have predicted myself," said Clow.
Weskan was one of the first teams to pursue playing 6 man football in the state. They began play in 2014, and were one of just six teams to compete in 2016 before the numbers nearly doubled in 2018.
"We've embraced 6 man football at Weskan," added Clow. "We were one of the pioneer teams to get it going, and we're excited to see it grow."
Like 8 man, the games are heavy on offense. The final score of the title game didn't come close to the over 200 combined points in the aforementioned game, but a 75-44 final is nothing to scoff at.
You can imagine the rules in 6 man are much different than 11 man. But there's even a big difference compared to 8 man. Both play on shorter fields, but that's the lone similarity.
For instance, to advance the ball forward on a run call, there must be an exchange. Often times the quarterback will not be the one to receive the snap, but instead the running back will receive the snap and immediately pitch to the quarterback, giving the option of either a run or pass. That rule bit Fox and the Blue Jays early in the season.
"We got called on a couple plays early in the year where we'd be scrambling it," Fox recalls."That's one of the things. There's got to be an exchange."
Another difference, the yardage needed to get a first down. Rather than the typical 10, 6 man teams must gain 15 yards to move the chains.
Kicking comes with a completely different scoring system as well. Extra points are typically worth 1 point when kicked. In 6 man, they're worth two. Conversions, to contrast, are worth 1 point. Field goals are worth more too, worth four versus the typical three.
The other big one, everyone on the field is eligible to receive the ball. That includes the center. Though three players must be on the line of scrimmage, many calls the center will be the lone lineman--and the defense will still have to wonder if he's going out to receive a pass.
"Having to wonder about everybody on the field and who's got what zone is difficult," said Fox.
"It's insane just how fast it actually is," added Scott.
As Fox stated, the sport is growing. The hope is to see the division continue to add teams, eventually getting to the required 24 teams the Kansas State High School Activities Association requires before adding a new classification..
"We're working hard to get it out there and just see if teams, if it fits them," said Clow. "A lot of small towns out there are fighting numbers and it's a chance to play football and keep it at your school."
"Our fans love watching the game," said Fox. "They say it's more exciting."