Northern Valley football shifts to six-man

Randy Gonzales
Special to Hays Daily News

Almena-Northern Valley High School, historically an eight-man power under former coach Chuck Fessenden, who won three state titles, won’t have a chance to add a fourth eight-man championship this fall.

That’s because the Huskies will play six-man football for the first time, starting with the Sept. 4 season opener against Tribune-Greeley County at Fessenden Field.

Marvin Gebhard, a Northern Valley alum and former assistant now in his second season as head coach, remembers the time he thought the Huskies should drop down to six-man, after a 48-0 loss against state power Osborne last year, when NVHS finished 2-7.

“I didn’t really like the idea of six-man football, but we went to play the number one team in the state with eight kids – we didn’t have any subs,” Gebhard said. “Two of them were freshmen. One kid never played football before.

“After that experience, these kids, it wasn’t fair to put them in that situation,” he added. “That’s what really made me think six-man is what we need to do.”

This fall, Northern Valley is one of 15 schools in the western part of the state that will play six-man football. There will be two divisions, north and south, with the top four teams playing a postseason. There will be a consolation game and a championship game played again this fall in Dodge City, with the title game called the Wild West Bowl. The north division has six regular season games inside the division. Teams that don’t qualify for the playoffs will play non-qualifiers from the south division. Teams in the eight-school south division will have seven games before postseason play.

Northern Valley is in the north division with Greeley County, Western Plains, Cheylin, Natoma, Weskan and Golden Plains. South division schools are Ashland, Deerfield, Pawnee Heights, Burrton, Cunningham, Fowler, Moscow and Rolla.

Gebhard said six-man currently is not sanctioned by the Kansas State High School Activities Association. He added the hope is that in two years, when KSHSAA next makes changes in football, that six-man will be a sanctioned sport.

“That will help the numbers grow,” Gebhard said.

Northern Valley has 13 players out for football this fall, including five freshmen. The Huskies also return senior Brendon Sammons, who was a first-team quarterback in the Western Kansas Liberty League last season. But in six-man, the quarterback can’t run the ball, so Sammons will be a running back this year.

“That’s huge, really puts a wrinkle in everything,” said Gebhard, who has known nothing but the famed Midway-Denton offense run by the Huskies for decades.

Gebhard, who remembers running the offense when he was a sixth-grader, is toying with ideas of how to get the ball in Sammons’ hands.

“That’s one thing we’re going to work on,” Gebhard said. “It’s going to look goofy, but we’re going to try to toss the ball back to one of the running backs and still run the Midway. We’ll see how it works.”

What has helped the players make the transition to six-man is that the Huskies held a week-long team camp this summer for the first time. Then the team went to a six-man camp in Nebraska to practice running plays.

“That week we had camp, they really enjoyed it,” Gebhard said of the offense.

Northern Valley draws students from Almena and Long Island. The community has been supportive and fans have been curious more than anything, about all this six-man football stuff.

“If anything, it’s been a lot of questions,” Gebhard said. “Not much negativity; it’s more questions. I’m hoping that first game, we have that same support we’ve always had.”