MYRTLE POINT — At his last coaching stop, Ryan Miller was teaching Russian villagers the game in rural Alaska on fields that were more gravel than grass and anything but regulation in size.
“We coached guys that had never played football,” he said. “It was a lot of challenges.”
But it was also a lot of fun.
Miller’s new challenge is trying to rebuild Myrtle Point’s program as the Bobcats enter their second year of a special eight-man exemption that was granted last fall to a number of struggling Class 2A schools.
Assistant coach Sam Clark illustrates a point for the Myrtle Point players during a preseason practice.
So far, so good.
One of his biggest goals entering the season was to have enough players (at least 16) to be able to go offense against defense with a full eight on both sides. The Bobcats met that number and were hoping for a few more after school started.
He’s also thrilled about three freshmen who were among the most committed to weight lifting during the summer.
“We want guys who are very dedicated at a young age,” he said.
Miller arrived in Myrtle Point as a new science teacher before last school year. He started showing up to help out however he could at practices during the middle of the season and was hired before this year, giving the Bobcats a head coach who also is a teacher for the first time in a number of years.
“Having a coach inside the school to recruit makes a big difference,” he said.
He’s had the summer to get ready for this season after getting his first taste of eight-man last fall.
“Defensively, it’s a whole new scheme,” he said. “It’s a whole new set. It’s an even number of players. It throws off your symmetry.”
Fortunately, he also has experienced coaches from last year to help out, including Sam Clark, who grew up playing the eight-man game in Powers.
Eric Kenyon, Ray Petrie and Nicholas Klotzbach also are back as assistants, giving the team stability there.
“I love the coaches,” Mike Huff said. “They keep us in check. They make sure we learn.”
Myrtle Point also returns a number of players from last year’s team, though they won’t necessarily be in the same spots on the field.
“We don’t have any positions (decided),” Miller said the first week of practice. “It’s a clean slate.”
Tyler Beyer-Smith, for example, was the quarterback last year, but will be a tight end this season.
Nate Little moves from running back to quarterback.
“I’ve never played QB,” he said. “I like it. I feel like I’m a little more in control — a little more responsible.”
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All the players who are back at least have the benefit of having played one season of eight-man, which is a huge adjustment from the 11-man game they grew up with.
“Last year was a hard one,” Little said. “It’s a different game. Now we know what to expect.
Freshman Troy Warner runs a pitch play with quarterback Jacob Koser as the Bobcats practice at Myrtle Point High School on Aug. 27. The team w…
“It’s fun, a lot more running around.”
With fewer players spread over the same size field, the eight-man game thrives on athleticism.
“We have a lot of athletic kids,” said Caleb Brickey, the team’s center, and like Little, part of a dynamic junior class that makes up much of the core of the team. “That will help.”
Little said the team as a whole has shown a better work ethic.
That started near the end of the school year, when Miller helped the kids develop workout and dietary plans to get ready for this fall, Huff added.
“The team has worked to get stronger,” he said.
The Bobcats knew they needed to improve in that area.
“The teams we played last year were a lot faster and stronger,” Little said, adding that the Bobcats aim to match that athleticism this fall.
Miller is excited about the players he has to work with.
They include Beyer-Smith and fellow seniors Will Byrant, a fullback and linebacker, and Cyrus Kenyon, a guard on the offensive line.
The big junior group includes Brickey and Huff on the line, Little at quarterback and cornerback, Casper Weeks at tight end and defensive end, and Enrique Camacho at running back and defensive back.
And Little is especially excited about the potential of freshmen Jason Bates on the line, Troy Warner at running back and defensive back, and Jacob Koser in the offensive backfield and at linebacker.
Myrtle Point only won one game last year and didn’t win any the year before dropping down to eight-man, but the players are optimistic for this fall, given their increased number and athleticism.
“I’m excited,” Little said. “I have high hopes we will do better.”
A big part of that will be attitude and confidence.
“We need to work on our winning mentality,” Brickey said.
Like the players, the coach is excited about the potential.
“We’ve won one game the last two years,” Miller said. “We have nowhere to go but up.”