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By David Sharp
The Knox County school district announced they would transition to eight man football for the 2021 season last year. The District expects an estimated 125 students in grades 9-12 for the current school year. The decision to drop 11 man football after sponsoring the sport since consolidation in 1963 was driven by student enrollment numbers.
Knox County will be an independent in football for the 2021 season. Lewis and Clark Conference members voted to retain Knox and Schuyler County for remaining activities. Schuyler County went to eight man football a season ago. The Rams and Knox County will play the first ever regular season eight man football game at Knox County on Friday, August 27, 2021.
The Eagles finished their final 11 man football season with a 2-7 overall record. Knox County showed 23 players out for football on an early season roster provided by Coach Bruce Vannoy.
“We started this journey back in the spring,” Knox County head football coach Bruce Vannoy said. “I feel like we taken a lot of steps in the right way. I think the guys are excited. It makes practice a lot of fun too.”
“I couldn’t complain. Our buy in and commitment from our core group has been great,” Coach Vannoy said. “It is a change, I understand that. We are treating it like it is football.”
Eight seniors including Carter Marble, Patrick Ogden, Holden Goucher, Elijah Ward, Conner Melendez, Branson Miller, Jacob Becker, Braydon Miller and Tanner Gillaspy return to lead the Eagles into their new era of competition.
There are not many of the linemen most traditional football fans would think of playing the trenches on the Eagle roster. Eight man football is a different game. It is a different sport on the MSHSAA list.
Holden Goucher, Elijah Ward, Junior Braxton McCurren and Sophomore Robert Dooley are the linemen most area observers talk about when discussing Knox County line players.
Knox County brings an athletic junior class to their new endeavor. Rylan Roberts went out for football this season and will likely start the season at quarterback. Branson Miller has played quarterback during his football career.
The Eagles will have some real prospects at the receiver position. Braydon Miller, Jacob Becker and sophomore Collin Hayes have speed and leaping ability prized by coaches looking for wide receivers.
Carter Marble, Tanner Gillaspy and Austin Jansen are strong players with speed. Most of these guys have the chance to become prototype eight man football players.
Jacob Becker and Austin Jansen are returning state champions in track and field. Becker and Jansen were members of the 2020 Eagle 4×400 meter relay team that became the first boys to win a state track and field championship event since consolidation in 1963.
Conner Hayes and Coltin Morrow graduated with the Class of 2021. Hayes and Morrow were the remaining members of the state championship boys Class 1 4×400 meter relay team. Both Hayes and Morrow were graduating football seniors as well.
Knox County may well buck the trends of many eight man football team. The Eagles have several good running backs and running back prospects. Riece Miller, Keaton Strange and Austin Jansen were among listed running backs.
Carter Marble and Tanner Gillaspy may well fit into the offensive backfield or tight end somewhere. The bottom line is the Eagles will not enter the realm of eight man football unarmed.
Knox County has some possibilities for wins this season they likely did not enjoy last season. Coaches are encouraged by nine freshmen currently out for football. One of the reasons cited as a plus for the sport was the chance for playing JV football games.
Knox County coaches and administrators knew they would likely need to drive to play eight man football going in. The administration has been able to find opponents within the same approximate two to 2.5 hour driving distance the district traveled playing conference partners Fayette, Salisbury and Harrisburg in 11 man football and other sports.
Knox County currently has a home and home schedule swap with Schuyler County. The Eagles will travel to Norborne/Hardin Central in week two. The Eagles take on Northland Christian in a September 11 Saturday afternoon game at Knox County.
The Eagles travel to Northwest on September 17. North Shelby paved the way for local teams to have the eight man option. The Raiders have the chance to play the sport their community, and student body wants to take on.
North Shelby has been very successful playing eight man football. The Raiders may well school the Eagles how the game is played in a September 24 meeting at North Shelby. The Raiders have been ranked in the top four of the state several times.
Knox County hosts St. Joseph Christian on October 1 and St. Paul Lutheran October 15 before playing their final regular season game at Schuyler County on October 22. The Eagles will play at least one district game in late October as they have done in 11 man football.
“We started last season with 21 players,” Bruce Vannoy said. “I feel comfortable we are starting with that or more this year. That is huge. We have got a few guys out that have been here all summer. Hopefully we will get a few more when school rolls around.”
“We hope to be 20 or 25 (players). That helps a lot. We could actually play our JV games. We have some experience in our varsity,” Vannoy said. “Some of them were new last year. With the work we have put in this summer, we have caught up quick.”
Knox County was able to go to a summer football camp where they took on established eight man football programs like King City and Stanberry. “They will be top five teams. We held our own. We were able to sustain some drives and score some touchdowns.”
“Defensively we held our own against everybody. Our guys are catching on quick because they are good athletes,” Bruce Vannoy said. Carter Marble and Keaton Strange have proven to be very good linebackers. Branson Miller is a game changing defensive back that tied the school record for interceptions in three seasons. The Eagles may well have some mobile defensive linemen.
The key to success for Knox County’s first ever eight man football program may well be on the defensive side of the football. If the Eagles can figure out how to slow down or stop potent offensive teams, some of which may not be used to teams putting up much resistance on defense who knows what the season will bring.
We will all find out over the next ten or more weeks.