SUNNYSIDE – There is no taking off any plays in eight-man football – it’s a game of speed and timing and that was the message delivered to both Sunnyside Christian High School junior and varsity players by head coach Jeremy Thomas bright and early Saturday morning.
“Everybody is accountable but we’re still a family,” Thomas stated. “We teach them when they make a mistake - number one; stand up and admit to it. Number two; learn from it and number three; move on.”
The school’s grass was high and thick, soaked from watering which kept players cool as they hit the forgiving ground during their scrimmage. Under an intense sunrise of valley color, coach systematically stressed on every snap of the ball that they know what they’re doing on each play and to “trust” one other.
The Knights return half of their varsity team, along with three sophomores who will be stepping in as starters, coach said. These two-way athletes must possess excellent conditioning to take on both offensive and defensive roles – they don’t come off the field like in 11-man football which is played by high schools with larger enrollments.
“We just keep tweaking things each year. We have to go with the athletes we have,” the 11-year veteran coach reported. During his tenure, Thomas has learned how to diligently evaluate his players strengths and weaknesses, while developing an overall game plan to take advantage of their gridiron athleticism.
One key difference for the upcoming 2019 season will be on offense after standout running quarterback Kyler Marsh graduated. The signal calling duties will be carried out by senior Marty Fultz whose strength is throwing the ball.
Coach plans to instill a well-balanced passing and running attack as in year’s past, challenging defenses to try and stop their potent offense by taking away one of their scoring options but not both.
“Everybody pushes each other,” Thomas explained. The older players are mentors to the youth and are constantly coaching or “barking” at them in practice and on the sideline during games, coach added.
“In eight man, we’ve got twelfth graders playing with eighth graders. Whereas if you go to a big school, they’ve got a varsity, JV and freshman team. They’re not usually together,” he expressed with a jovial chuckle.
The winning culture of Knight’s football has been reliant upon this leadership environment which continues to reload instead of rebuilding as seniors depart the heralded program - that’s not to say former players don’t return or keep connected with the school.
Past alumni Justin Faber, Brennan Rip, C.J. Dalrymple and Chance Marsh came out to the field and helped coach players for a few days last week before they went back to college.
This season’s JV team consists of eighth and ninth grade students. Only two of the freshmen have played Grid Kids football, making this a new sport for the rest of the young squad. “The little kids are not tackling dummies to the older players. They’re the future of the program,” coach added.