This week I wanted to take a look at two teams making the transition to six-man from 11-man, so I reached out to head coaches Israel DeLeon of Springlake Earth and Brock Tyrell of Van Horn to get their perspective on how the season has unfolded.
Springlake Earth Head Coach Israel DeLeon
After struggling with numbers the past few seasons while at the 11-man level, the Wolverines are currently 3-3 so far this season. To their credit, they played an ambitious schedule for their first year in six-man. Last weekend they began district play with a resounding 74-28 win over district-favorite Petersburg.
In that game, the offense was led by Braxton Ethridge, who rushed for 153 yards and three touchdowns on just eight carries. He was also 5-for-5 throwing the ball for another 60 yards and a score. If the name looks familiar, there’s a reason: he’s the younger brother of Tyler.
The defense and special teams for the Wolverines were stout, producing four touchdowns and a safety. Ethridge and Keshan Holmes both had interceptions for scores and Holmes also added a fumble recovery for another touchdown. Jerry Gallegos added a 67-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and was responsible as well for a safety late in the game.
In the end, it was an all-around team win over a quality opponent that has reached the playoffs the past four seasons.
It has been an interesting year. Your season has been even more interesting as you make the transition to six-man. What have been some of the biggest challenges, specifically as it relates to the change to six-man?
“Learning six-man has definitely been a challenge. There is so much information out there. So many schemes. Finding the scheme that fits our kids has been trial and error. I was fortunate to have relationships built with great six-man coaches that were willing to share: Coach Terry Crawford, Kyle Crawford, Cooper Thornhill, Tye Keith and Jeff Jones to name a few.
“Secondly, putting kids in positions they will be successful is not easy. We have shuffled kids around all year, and are still doing it.
“Finally, trying to retrain my brain to the six-man ways was difficult. Doing things like going for it on 4th-and-long from our own 20 or allowing our opponent to start drives at mid-field because we onside kick over and over to name a few.”
You have an extensive coaching staff with plenty of six-man experience. How has that helped?
“When we decided to go six-man, I asked my coaches to stay. Two of them did. We were fortunate to hire two great coaches. I thank my administration for seeing the need in hiring coaches with six-man experience.
“My first hire was Joel Baker. He had one year six-man experience at Baird. I figured one year is better than no experience. Baker went through the transition last year and is able to give me a lot of the ins and outs of six-man. information that is common sense to six-man coaches, is not to me. He has helped our JH and JV learn the game.
“My second hire was Harley Ethridge as defensive coordinator. Harley has 18 years in six-man. He has had to learn something new this year. For the first time in his career, he is converting 11-man players to 6-man. This has not been easy. He has been patient and I have allowed him to shuffle kids as needed as well as find a scheme that fit our kids. I feel like the defense is coming around.
“Offensively, we bounce everything off Harley. He helps with technique and has a huge library of plays.”
How have cancellations and several open weeks affected your time to make some of these transitions?
“Teams that stay healthy will have a chance to make a deep run. My son had allergies last week. I made him stay home and held him out for the Petersburg game. We do not want our kids sick. We have had three cancellations and were only able to fill one. This slowed down the learning. We needed the games to evaluate where we were as a team. However, not having the games allowed us to scout, which was a plus.”
You played an ambitious schedule heading into district. How did that prepare you for Petersburg?
“We made the decision to go six-man late. I had an 11-man schedule filled. The only teams available were teams nobody wanted to play (because they are good). Four of the five teams we played in pre-district were top-10 teams. We also replaced one of the cancellations with Groom, who then beat us 90-40.
“If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change our schedule. We learned a lot. The best part about it is calling the opponent after the game. I asked what changes I needed to make and what we were doing wrong. I asked what they saw when they played us and how they would personnel our kids. They were great in helping. Coach Tony Dodson at Groom has helped me in tweaking our offense. This helped in getting ready for Petersburg.”
What do you tell your layers moving forward after this past weekend?
“Moving forward, we stay the course one game at a time. We still have a lot to learn. We have one senior on the team and six sophomores start on either side of the ball. We feel good about the future.”
Van Horn Head Coach Brock Tyrell
Van Horn was a playoff team a year ago in 11-man, going 6-6 and losing in the area round. On paper, they looked to be a team that would be strong right from the start.
However, they have been plagued by the COVID situation all season. Due to restrictions, they did not play a game until the fourth week of the season and before district play began, were only able to have three games.
The team responded this past weekend with a resounding 52-24 win over Buena Vista in which the offense combined for a whopping 441 yards rushing. Senior Felipe Gonzales gained 188 yards with four touchdowns on 10 carries. Sophomore running back Bryce Virdell added 138 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries.
Defensively, Gonzales led the team with 16 tackles, with sophomore linebacker Ethan Hinijos adding 15 more. Freshman Juan Franco came up big with 12 tackles and Virdell added 10 tackles and two interceptions.
It has been an interesting year. Your season has been even more interesting as you make the transition to six-man. What have been some of the biggest challenges specifically as it relates to the change to six-man?
“Yes sir, it has been a challenging year. I feel that one of the biggest challenges for our team was adapting to the speed of the game as well as the new format in general.”
How have cancellations COVID affected your time to make some of these transitions?
“We knew cancellations would be inevitable this season. We also started two-a-days, two weeks late due to COVID as well.
“What I'm most proud of is our boys did not use a two-week late start or two canceled games as an excuse. We talk about the three things they can control all the time, no matter what: effort, attitude and response to adversity. That is just what this team has done. Could there be more COVID related issues this season? Quite possibly, but when we focus on these three fundamental characteristics it makes us better teammates, students, brothers, husbands and fathers.”
You finally played a district game. Does it feel like you may finally have some momentum moving forward with the season?
“It feels great. The kids have worked so very hard and that hard work is starting to pay off. We were very timid and unsure in our first game vs Sanderson this season. You can see on the film how we just weren't clicking very smoothly. As the weeks have gone on, we have continued to push, work hard, learn and grow together. It has been a lot of fun so far!”
What do you tell your players moving forward after this past weekend?
“Be proud of what you have accomplished so far. Stay humble in your victory and do not be satisfied. We must keep building upon our experiences and success. Each day we have to move another step up the ladder. We still have a lot left to learn and we learn every single week. We treat each week as the biggest game of the season, that is how we maintain our focus and achieve our goals.”
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