CRYSTAL FALLS — The Forest Park football program is one of the most successful in the entire state. Since its inception back in 1967, the Trojans have made the playoffs in 40 of the past 48 years, including 19 straight since 1997. But due to falling enrollment, the school board made the tough choice to move the team down to 8–man football, a decision that is still discussed to this very day.
“It’s a new era. It’s a new change. It’s something that we at Forest Park have not experienced yet. But elsewhere they have, and when it comes down to it, if you can’t drive a Corvette, you still want to drive something. That’s where we’re at. We have to get the kids involved into what they want, and that’s football. Be it 11 or 8 man, it’s still football,” said head coach Dave Graff.
The Trojans are down to 21 players on the team, which prompted the switch to 8–man. And now that they have one week of practice down, they are looking ahead to the new season.
“I say now that we’re getting into it, we’re over it. And now we’re into our schedule, we’re practicing, we’re doing everything. So there’s nothing else we’re going to do now. At first it was rough, but we’re getting back to it,” quarterback Daniel Nocerini.
“We really didn’t take it hard because it’s still football at the end of the day. You still put a helmet on. You still put shoulder pads and still tackle people. It’s football at the end of the day, just with three less people,” running back Jeremy Johnson said.
The game of football is still the basis of the 8–man game, but the speed of the game is something both the coaches and players were quick to point out.
“On defense, you got to cover a lot of field. Your athlete have to cover the field with more speed. If you don’t have speed, it makes it tougher,” said Graff.
“Everything we’ve seen, everything we’ve watched, it’s all faster. A lot more scoring. We’re just going to walk our defense down and score points than the other people,” Nocerini said.
“Like when they’re spread, they’re just different lineups and formations. You just got to be aware of who’s eligible and who’s not. It gets fairly complicated at points, but at the end of the day, you just got to do your job,” said Johnson.
Forest Park is coming off another very successful season, which saw them knock off undefeated Lake Linden–Hubbell and securing another district championship with a win over Bark River–Harris. Their season ended at the hands of St. Ignace in the regionals. The Trojans currently have the fifth longest playoff streak in the entire state, and the switch still doesn’t change their goals for the upcoming season.
“The community was probably more angry about the switch than us at first. But everybody is behind us again. We’re coming in the fall and everybody is ready for football. The same people that are going to be here watching that were last year and we’re going to try to give them a show,” Nocerini said.
“It’s going to be still traditional Forest Park football. You’re still going to want to establish a running game. You still want to try to have a tough defense and you still want to get your best athlete an opportunity to make plays. And that’s not going to change here at Forest Park. It’s going to be a little twist, but it’s still going to be the same football at Forest Park,” said Graff.
Forest Park opens the season next Friday against Rapid River.