PRESTON – Behind Easton Valley High School, tucked away on a hill nearly 30 yards from the building, is a football field with dimensions reaching just 80 yards long and 40 yards wide.
The River Hawks play football there at least four Friday's every fall.
Since classifying as a 8-man football program in 2016, Easton Valley has aimed to revitalize its gridiron success, which has been fairly nonexistent in recent years, as the River Hawks have not won more than three games in a season since 2013.
But Tony Johnson, in his first campaign on the Easton Valley sidelines, has the program on the cusp of turning the proverbial corner, garnering two early victories through four games.
Johnson hails from Highland, an 11-man program in Riverside. The 8-man game – and all of its nuances and caveats – forced an adjustment process, as the encapsulated version of the game caters to schools with enrollment lesser than 115 students, according to the Iowa High School Athletic Association handbook.
Johnson, who also serves as principal at the high school, says he was reluctant about the 8-man game at first but soon discovered its perks.
"Being around football a long time, I am all-in on schools having the opportunity to play football," Johnson said. "It kept the [roster] numbers high and I am all about that.
"I think it is a great opportunity for the kids. Right now, we have 27 guys out and if you get a couple kids hurt here and there, you wouldn't be able to continue with an 11-man team but, with 8-man, you can still function.”
The River Hawks grew tired of finding themselves in the loss column by crooked deficits, and, as a result, participation numbers began to dwindle. For reference, there are 27 athletes clad in orange and black on the Easton Valley sidelines this season – a 14-person decline from five years ago.
Junior quarterback Nate Trenkamp, whose statistical numbers mimic those of a video game with 17 touchdowns in four games, says that he feels that the buzz surrounding the team rose when the drop to 8-man became imminent.
"I would say there was a bit more excitement because we were getting overmatched... there were games where our opponents would have 50 players on the sidelines and we would only have 25," Trenkamp said.
The 8-man product is a sight to behold on a football field – unless you are a proponent of defense. The traditional formation boasts just three or four down lineman, a quarterback, running back while the remaining options sail out for a pass.
Throwing the ball can become the attractive option, as wideouts usually find themselves flanked by just one defender, who can be often be escaped, especially when the quarterback is able to prolong the length of the play by dodging a lessened amount of pressure.
Take Trenkamp for example. The 6-footer ranks fourth in the state of Iowa in passing with 1,279 yards and completes over 60 percent of his attempts, many of which came from outside of the pocket.
"Coach Johnson knows I like to roll out so he has designed a lot of plays to adjust to our skill set this season," Trenkamp said.
Easton Valley recently dropped to Midland last Friday, falling to 1-1 in District No. 3 play. The final score? 70-40. Midland quarterback Britan Martens accounted for eight touchdowns in that contest and Trenkamp tossed another five.
That is 13 touchdowns from two players.
Welcome to 8-man. Buckle up.