PREVIEW: Northwood-Solon Springs Evergreens enter the world of eight-man footballThe Evergreens are down to 18 players this season after losing 11 seniors from 2011. The team made plans to move to eight-man football last year, and Trettin said the shift away from the traditional 11-man game likely cost the program a few players.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
Practices are quieter this year for the Northwood-Solon Springs Evergreens. For their first game of the season, the football field will surely feel a bit bare.
But the Evergreens have prepared for this. They’ve been preparing since committing to play eight-man football.
“We’re small in numbers but we’re really big in heart,” said Brian Trettin, beginning his second season as head coach of the Evergreens.
The Evergreens are down to 18 players this season after losing 11 seniors from 2011. The team made plans to move to eight-man football last year, and Trettin said the shift away from the traditional 11-man game likely cost the program a few players.
Trettin also expects trepidation from some of the Evergreens’ longtime fans, but he’s confident the decision to move to eight-man football will prove correct in time.
“Eight-man might save football in these smaller schools,” Trettin said. “In two or three years, we’ll see it was a good move.”
For their inaugural season, though, both the Evergreen players and fans will need time to adjust.
Eight-man football is played on a shortened field — 80 yards by 40 yards — and with fewer players to make tackles, higher scores are typical.
“Last year it was a big deal when (opponents) scored,” said senior Jake Dahlberg. “This year, we have to get used to that.”
The Evergreens gave up 13.8 points per game in the regular season last year and averaged 35.7 points of offense. They finished with a 7-1 record in conference play (8-2 overall) and made a fourth straight trip to the playoffs.
This season, the Evergreens won’t have a chance to compete for a fifth straight playoff berth. There is no playoff bracket for eight-man football, and the Evergreen co-op team is ineligible for the eight-man postseason jamboree because the combined enrollment for Northwood and Solon Springs puts the team past the 200 student limit.
Northwood-Solon Springs will also be playing in a new conference in 2012, although the Evergreens will face many of the same opponents.
The Evergreens will play in the Lakeland Eight-man Conference this season. The newly-formed conference consists primarily of former Small Lakeland Conference teams, including Northwood-Solon Springs.
Joining the Evergreens in the new conference are five other former Small Lakeland Conference teams: Birchwood, Bruce, Luck, Siren and Winter. New to the Evergreens’ schedule are Prairie Farm and New Auburn, both from the South Lakeland Conference.
The only schools remaining in what was the Small Lakeland Conference are Frederic (last year’s champion), Shell Lake and Turtle Lake. Frederic and Shell Lake will now play in the Lakeland North Conference and Turtle Lake will play in the Lakeland South.
“I think we’re pretty well prepared, but there are some things we’ll have to learn along the way just because no one has played (eight-man) before,” said senior Gage Harwick.
“They’ve got to come out and see us,” Dahlberg added. “They’ll see we’re still the same team.”
On defense, the Evergreens need to get used to having fewer players on the field. They’ll be short three players, but which positions will be eliminated varies.
“It kind of moves around,” said senior Brandon Wilcox. “We lose a linebacker and a corner and a down lineman or a free safety. I’m not really sure how it all drops out because we kind of make up for it by moving our guys around to fill in.”
The Evergreens also know what to expect once they take the field, and Trettin is already bracing for higher-scoring games.
“Talking to the Michigan state (eight-man) champion from last year, he said, ‘Coach, just be prepared to give up 21 points per game,’” Trettin said. “It is what it is. Being a defensive guy that’s not a lot of fun. I’ve just been pulling my hair out.”
With the team’s new setup, Trettin said the Evergreens will need to get used to playing positions they’re not used to playing. The Evergreens will use multiple defensive sets depending upon whether an opponent favors its running game or its passing game.
“We’re going to see a lot of spread this year, is going to be my guess,” Trettin said. “We’re going to see like a 3-2 type defense or a 3-4.”
Dahlberg said the players are also prepared to assume more individual responsibility.
“Last year, it was two or three guys on one ball carry; now it’s one guy,” Dahlberg said. “It’s more pressure.”
The Evergreens are without their top two players from last season: quarterback Phil Larson and running back Josh Malone. The 2012 graduates led the Evergreens on offense last season and became the first two players in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in the same season.
Northwood-Solon Springs will need new players to step up, but the Evergreens’ offense should look very similar to what they ran last season.
“Our blocking schemes are the same, our paths are the same for similar guys, our quarterback steps are very similar, so it’s not making these kids — two years in a row — learn a whole playbook,” Trettin said. “The best thing for us is being ahead because our kids remember so much from last year.”
Trettin said the Evergreens will run a split back veer offense this season.
Taking over at quarterback is senior Brett Missinne. He said the game is much faster at eight-man and he expects the Evergreens to lead with their running game again this season.
“It’s more open,” Missinne said. “You see it and you’re like, I want to run right there. It’s so open it’s like a highway.”
Dahlberg and Harwick return to help lead the offensive line, which Trettin said is one of the Evergreens’ greatest strengths.
“I really like our offense this year,” Wilcox said. “We’re running the ball, we’re tossing the ball and we’ve got some big guys on the line.
“I think we’re going to concentrate on some good running, pushing through the line.”
Northwood-Solon Springs Evergreens
2012 Football Schedule
Saturday, Aug. 25
Fri., Aug. 24 vs. New Auburn at
Rice Lake (NC), 10 a.m.
Fri., Sept. 7 at Prairie Farm, 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 14 at Winter, 5 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 21 home vs. Siren, 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 28 at Birchwood, 7 p.m.
Fri., Oct. 5 home vs. Bruce, 7 p.m.
Fri., Oct. 12 at New Auburn, 7 p.m.
Tue., Oct. 23 home vs. Luck, 7 p.m.
2012 Evergreens Varsity Football Roster
1. Corey Pajtash Fr. RB/DB
4. Brett Missinne Sr. QB/LB
5. Jamie Downs Fr. RB/DB
9. Matt Benson Fr. WR/DB
10. Kacey Block So. QB/LB
21. Mason Barth So. RB/DB
30. Austin Meyer Sr. TE/DB
50. Ryan Hill Fr. C/LB
53. Trevor Lafave Sr. DL
52. Brody Waggoner Fr. TE/LB
62/89. Daniel Gengenbach Jr. OG/DL
63. Jake Dahlberg Sr. OG/LB
67. Gage Harwick Sr. OG/DE
71. Dennis St. Clair Jr. OG/DL
77. Ethan Luedtke So. OG/DL
83. Braxton Phillips Sr. TE/DE
88. Brandon Wilcox Sr. HB/DB
89. Josh Downs Jr. RB/DB
2011 Evergreen Results
Aug. 19 at Frederic L, 21-12
Aug. 26 at Bruce W, 28-0
Sept. 2 home vs. Luck W, 26-20
Sept. 9 at Winter W, 52-43
Sept. 16 home vs. Shell Lake W, 27-8
Sept. 23 home vs. Birchwood W, 48-12
Sept. 30 home vs. Turtle Lake W, 33-0
Oct. 7 at Siren W, 48-14
Oct. 14 home vs. Washburn W, 47-6
Oct. 21 vs. Spring Valley L, 39-0