Due to a lack of committed players, Malibu High School is moving to an eight-man football team from an 11-man team, sparking complaints from parents and students.
MHS Athletic Director Chris Neier told parents Tuesday night, May 7, that since students have moved away after the Woolsey Fire, administrators decided to play against teams with “similar football programs.”
“I can’t count on maybes,” Neier stated.
The schools scheduled to face off against the Sharks this season are mostly the same as previously played and Neier said those teams were facing the same challenge—a decreased number of players.
He explained, “We value football for our kids and for our community, including cheerleaders, dance squad and drumline. There was talk of just having a JV program, but we wanted homecoming and senior night.”
Two new coaches will be overseeing the team. Head coach Steven Hernandez and assistant coach Luke Davis Jr. have years of playing experience, but this is Hernandez’ first job as a head coach, which was called into question by a couple of parents. Davis tried to reassure skeptical parents, stating since 2017, 15,601 schools in 30 states play eight-man football.
“The big shocker is that there’s six-man football only being played in the state of Texas with 334 schools playing. When you think about high school football, Texas is one of the five elite states playing 11-man. Eight-man football is totally exciting and fun,” he said.
Decline in high school football is a trend. Even though it is the number one participatory sport in the nation, the National Federation of State High School Associations reports 11-man football declined for the second consecutive year since 2017. Perhaps due to the publicity of concussion injuries and brain damage, football lost 21,465 out of more than one million participants.
Davis was enthusiastic about the new program to be played on an 80-by-40-yard gridiron.
“It’s fast, high scoring and fun. We’re going to win some games and represent the City of Malibu.”
“We’re going to build the program,” Davis promised. “The key is to build back to our 11-man, but we have to have the kids here. You’re going to have a staff here that makes sure your kids are safe and being taught the proper way.”
The new program didn’t sit well with some, including MHS senior Dovid Magna, who pointed out that the team went 6-4 last season with 22 players.
“It’s sad that my senior year is going to be the last year that Malibu might have an 11-man team for a long time,” he said.
Magna questioned the administration’s ability to recruit transfers when school principal Cheli Nye clarified, “It’s not in CIF rules to allow us to transfer students on the basis of football. It’s illegal. We’ve asked every male athlete. We don’t feel we can commit to having a team that should be closer to 25 to be safe. This is the safest we can be with football. In the past, we’ve struggled with injuries and teams that have to be on both sides constantly—not choose to, but have to. When kids play both sides all the time that does take wear and tear.”
Hernandez and Davis said they need to develop younger players, perhaps with flag football or resurrecting Pop Warner—a youth football program—by reaching out to middle schoolers who currently do not have a team.
The idea of playing younger and smaller JV students didn’t sit well with Davis.
“When you have half of your team that’s 5’5”, 120 [pounds] in the ninth and 10th grade going up against a kid who’s 6’4”, 250 [pounds], that’s like throwing a dog to an alligator. That’s not fair to ask and it’s not safe. Safety is key. Football—and this is coming from a former player—is very barbaric. If you don’t believe that, then you’re fooling yourself.”
Answering critics, Davis replied, “It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been head coach or who interviewed for the job. You’ve got dedicated coaches here who want to see this program strive. You’re either with us or against us. That’s how we look at it.”
One parent said she was concerned about going up against other teams with more experienced coaches and players. Another questioned the administration’s effort to field more players and claimed some left MHS to play elsewhere and not because of the fire.
Amora Rachelle, a parent, said, “Our concerns about safety and experienced coaches are valid. It’s unfortunate we’re here discussing an eight team.”
Davis ended by encouraging, “I understand your frustration, but if you build it they will come.”