The Echo Cougars may be short on football players this year, but their spirits are as high as ever.
The team will hit the field with six core players this year as opposed to the eight that is traditional for the Class 1A schools in the OSAA. This transition for Echo came about when the school noticed that the amount of boys participating in their program dropped from the previous year.
In 2017, the Cougars had 18 players — 12 were seniors, and the remaining six were made up of younger students. Now that those seniors have graduated, the team is only comprised of 12 players total, three of whom are new to high school football.
The decline in participation doesn’t stem from a lack of interest in the sport, however. Echo High School’s male student population is significantly lower than in years past.
“There’s four boys in my class out of 12 students,” said Echo’s sophomore center Luke White.
Echo will be joining 14 other small Oregon high schools in the Class 1A to compete in six-man games this season, including Prairie City, Joseph, and the Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler co-op. It is part of a two-year pilot program from the OSAA that was offered to Class 1A schools with adjusted enrollments fewer than 89. At the end of the two years, the coaches will decide whether or not to continue forward with it.
Echo’s eighth-year head coach Rick Thew says his team has had to completely re-strategize how they play. The Cougars’ offense will have to pass or hand the ball off before a play can be made, whereas before, their quarterback could simply take the ball and run.
Thew doesn’t see this change as a disadvantage, but instead, an opportunity.
“Everyone gets the chance to catch the ball, to block — to do a little bit of everything,” he said. “It makes for a really well-rounded athlete.”
Echo senior Devan Craig has been on Echo’s varsity team since he was a freshman, and says that his team has been adapting well to the decrease in size.
“It’s a different feel,” he said. “But it’ll be a lot of fun. As a player, you have to be dynamic.”
Positivity is a cornerstone of the Courgars football team. In fact, it’s push-ups if you’re overheard saying anything negative about your performance.
“Just because you’re from a smaller school doesn’t make you any less of an athlete,” Thew said. “I’m excited. Echo’s had a tradition of eight-man football. You don’t always want to try something new, but this season is going to be fast and exciting. The kids are going to have a blast.”