PENNSBURG >> The Perkiomen School football program is bringing a whole new look to the Pennsylvania high school gridiron this fall.
The Panthers will adopt eight-man football, headmaster Mark A. Devey announced last week, a move the school is making as a result of limited numbers on the varsity level.
“The eight-man version of football is an offensive-minded game built for speed, requiring fewer players, and less ‘big linemen,’” said Devey in a press release. “Growing in popularity in many states including Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and New York, we are looking to lead regional high schools in this new direction. It is a great way to combine a favorite pastime with a quicker, more exciting feel. Not only is it a wonderful match for high schools with great football traditions, it is also a great way for smaller schools with smaller budgets to successfully compete in America’s game — football.”
As a result of the move, Perk School has appointed Upper Perkiomen High School alum and varsity football assistant Casey Perlstein as the head coach. Perlstein takes the reins after Tom Calvario spent the past seven seasons as head coach of the Panthers.
“I’m honored and humbled to be recognized as the head coach of the Perkiomen School football program,” said Perlstein, who teaches science at Perk School. “My goal is to implement the eight-man football program in the hopes that the program will not only put our student athletes in the best possible position to be successful, but help pave the way for other schools throughout the state — those struggling to maintain football programs due to numbers — make the transition to the eight-man game.”
Perk’s transition to eight-man football marks the Panthers as the first program in Pennsylvania to make the move. According to the school’s athletic director, Ken Baker, more than 30 states field eight-man teams, possibly signaling the start of a movement across the country.
“We decided it was time,” Baker said. “If nobody else started it, it may never get going. We felt that we would be the first to jump off the cliff and do it. Maybe as the next couple of years go by, people will find it interesting and may drop back with us.”
According to Baker, Perk has already begun reaching out to several schools around the east coast in hopes of putting together a schedule. Among the most notable development, he pointed out, is the potential of joining the New England Prep School Eight-Player Football League, a four-team league that features three schools from Connecticut — Gunnery School, Forman School and Pomfret School — along with New York’s Milbrook School.
“I’ve been talking with the athletic directors and they seem interested in bringing us in,” said Baker. “They’re interested in expanding just like we’re interested in getting this going. It looks like they’ll be willing to come down here and take us on. That will be one way for us to show the product.”
An eight-man football game varies from that of the traditional 11-man game in a few ways. The game runs through 10-minute quarters (11-man is 12 minutes) played on a field that is 80×40 yards in length. With fewer bodies on the field, the game lends itself to being much more high-scoring with advantages going to the skill players.
On offense, teams are only required to line up with a center in the middle and one guard on each side on the line of scrimmage with the quarterback behind. The rest of the offense is open to skill players — running backs, receivers and tight ends. That gives coaches a chance to manipulate the play-calling and get innovative.
“It becomes a much higher-scoring game,” noted Baker. “The game isn’t based upon size as much as it is athletics. We feel we’ll have a much better chance of maintaining the program when we don’t have to have 260 (pounders) up front. That’s been tough for us the past few seasons.”
Still, Perlstein plans to keep it traditional.
“I plan on building and developing a program around the principles of toughness, discipline and energy,” he said. “I want athletes who are willing to work hard and commit themselves to the program. I’m grateful for this opportunity and proud to be member of the Perkiomen School staff.”
The transition comes a season after the Perk School was limited to just 18 varsity players total, several of whom were forced to play both ways.
Since taking over in June of 2010, Calvario finishes out with a 37-22 overall record. Coming off a 5-3 finish this past fall, Calvario and the Panthers had just one losing season, a 4-5 record in 2013.