Call it crazy eights.
Eight-man high school football takes the game into realms usually seen on PlayStations.
Scores can break 100. Big plays are common and it’s not too unusual to see 30-point deficits erased.
The field is the same, as are most of the rules. But in many respects, eight-man football is another game altogether.
And few teams in the area play that game better than King’s Way Christian.
The school in east Hazel Dell is 8-0 this season, outscoring opponents by an average of 64-21. King’s Way hopes to finish its season 9-0 Friday at Rosalia, which is south of Spokane.
Yet for all its domination on the field, there are no playoffs in the cards this year.
King’s Way has chosen to play an independent Class B schedule. It is ineligible for postseason play because the school’s other sports compete in Class 1A.
The King’s Way student body is much smaller than other 1A schools. But a dearth of other Class B teams in the region makes playing at Class 1A a logical choice for every sport but football.
Head coach Luke Gillock, who is also athletic director at King’s Way, said there is no timeline for moving beyond eight-man football. He says it’s a decision made year-to-year based on how many players are likely to turn out.
A recent practice saw 20 athletes suit up. Gillock said 30 players are needed to field a viable 11-man team. He said being competitive in eight-man varsity football is more enriching for the players than being overmatched every week against 11-man varsity teams or playing a junior varsity schedule.
“Being ineligible for postseason puts us in an odd position,” Gillock said “What do we play for? Who are we? We’re much less focused on where we’re headed than on who we are. We let that define us.”
Four tenets define who King’s Way is — unity, team first, positivity and doing things His way. As a Christian school, King’s Way sees football as a way to glorify God through actions on and off the field. A recent evening saw players volunteer for Giving Closet, a local nonprofit group that provides clothing, food and education to those in need.
“We try to get guys involved with things outside themselves,” Gillock said. “It’s great to be strong, but if you spend that strength on yourself, we feel it’s not a life worth living.”
Formations differ, but most eight-man offenses play with no tackles and one fewer receiver. Defenses generally play with two fewer defensive backs and one fewer lineman.
This opens up space where playmakers thrive. And few people in Northwest eight-man football are bigger scoring threats than Jay Becker.
A quarterback, Becker has accounted for nearly 50 touchdowns this season, including three games of at least eight touchdowns. He threw for six, rushed for two and scored on a kickoff return in a 78-70 win over Wishkah on Oct. 4.
“He is cut from a different cloth,” Gillock said. “If he’s on the field, every play is a potential score for him.”
Becker’s mindset is simple when he receives each snap.
“Score every time,” Becker said. “You still have six to eight men in the box, but behind that there’s nobody. So what would be a 10-yard run is a 50-yard run and a touchdown.”
Twice, Becker thought about playing at a larger school — after his eighth-grade and sophomore years. He plays baseball for Battle Ground High School.
“I’m very happy I stayed here,” Becker said.
No room for error
Defense is the most vexing part of eight-man football. King’s Way learned that lesson when it unveiled its new campus field last year, losing 108-42 to Taholah.
“You have to treat every tackle like a solo tackle,” Gillock said. “And if you miss it, it’s going to cost you points.”
This season, King’s Way has held all but two opponents under 20 points.
That new field has also helped to forge the program’s identity. Donors helped fund construction of a synthetic surface behind the school.
“I feel like this year has been partly a celebration of our community,” Gillock said.
The new field has kept the players from having to practice on soggy surfaces and odd angles. But Gillock cites a deeper benefit. He sees the field as a reminder that his team plays for something bigger than wins and losses, namely to honor the school community that made the field possible.
That feeling of community has translated to the football team.
“We just have one team, freshman to seniors,” said senior lineman Trevor Nesbitt. “There are a lot of chances to lead and to bring the younger players up.”