Greenbrier Christian Head Coach Tommy Austin (Photo: Andy Hilton/recruit757)
Heading into his third year at GCA, Tommy Austin has a unique task ahead of him
by Andy Hilton, recruit757
On Monday, the Chesapeake Sports Club hosted all of the High School Football coaches of Chesapeake to give them an opportunity to speak about their program.
Tommy Austin has a situation that no one else on the panel could claim.
The Greenbrier Christian Gators are going to an 8-man format this fall.The Gators will open with two teams from North Carolina who have been playing 8-man football for years, then they’ll finish their schedule against Virginia private school teams. All of those teams, including Hampton Roads Academy locally, have also decided to adopt 8-man football for the first time.
“I’ve been coaching football for 35 years at the high school and college level. At Greenbrier Christian, we’re going to play 8-man football for at least the next two years,” Coach Austin stated. “Many of you that are familiar with the game of football know that in many areas, participation in numbers is down.”
Coach Austin recited a number of reasons for participation being down, including sport specialization and parental concerns over concussions.
“The numbers at Greenbrier have been down. When I got there two years ago, I had 14 players on the varsity. One of them was an eighth grader who started on both sides of the ball. We dressed five other eighth graders that year and I finished three ball games with all six eighth graders on the field. That’s scary, not only for them, but for me.”
Austin went on to explain that all of those eighth graders have remained in the program. They’ve boosted the numbers so that there are 21 players in the program now with 14 of them being sophomores. Six of those 14 were eighth graders two years ago.
“I have high expectations because those guys have been in our program,” said the coach. “I am very excited. I was excited when I got there two years ago, but I faced reality quickly. The kids played hard. They never quit. We’ve gotten better.”
In the 2017 season, GCA played two experimental 8-man games. One was against HRA and one was against St. Anne’s Belfield. Austin admitted that he coached in the first 8-man game he ever saw. That first game against STAB took three hours to play, had 1176 yards of offense, and ended in a 64-56 loss for the Gators.
“The only thing I knew is that you’re missing two tackles and one eligible receiver. The great thing that I found out is that everyone except for the center is eligible. So it doesn’t matter if you’re number 75 or number 2, you’re eligible.”
That comment from Austin drew a laugh from the crowd.
“The game does make opportunities for smaller kids because it is a game about speed. We have a lot of young players. We’re going to get better. Again, I’m really excited about it,” Austin said.
– Andy Hilton