EDDYVILLE — The gridiron program at Eddyville Charter was as dead as a beaver hat until Leon Buel took a leap of faith and resurrected the once-mighty Eagles, unexpectedly rocking the six-man football world last season as tenacious newcomers.
A former OSAA referee who was an imposing lineman on one of the last eight-man Eddyville football teams before the program was disbanded 10 years ago, Buell, a maintenance man for Lincoln County School District, quit officiating and answered an ad for head coach.
“I’d never coached football,” he said, recalling his sparse resumé. “But I’d ref’d football for 15 years and played defensive line until they shut down the program my junior year.”
The Eagles soared after an opening setback to McKenzie, 0-74, achieving a 3-7 record in 2018 in a far-flung league of tough young cowboys and small-town superstars. Fielding a scratch squad of 10 untried underclassmen, Eddyville often won by convincing margins, such as a 58-24 pounding of Jewell and a 52-21 margin over Triangle Lake.
With six returning players, Eddyville is poised to catch lightning again in 2019. The “odds-on” favorite for the quarterback slot is Wayne Nephew III, whose recovery from a shoulder injury last year can be seen in his fast, accurate passing. Leading the running game will be senior Keagan Spike, who runs the 40 in five seconds flat. Anchoring the line like a spar tree will be sophomore Robert Warfield, who made second team All-League as a freshman.
The season begins Saturday, Aug. 31, with the non-league Crow Jamboree at Crow, followed by a league opener at bitter rival Alsea on Friday, Sept. 6.
“Eddyville was constantly in the playoffs in the ‘80s and ’90s and one of the top eight programs in the state, and the biggest rival was always Alsea,” recalled Buel, 35. “If you beat Alsea and nobody else, the Eddyville season was considered a success.”
But the most notable date for football fans to mark in their calendars is Friday, Sept. 13, when Eddyville meets fellow 1A school Waldport in a cross-county game of six-on-eight. Waldport, an 11-man team, will slim down to six on offense and eight on defense for the match.
The Eagles’ first home game is Sept. 20, against Triangle Lake.
Eddyville Charter is a K-12 school in east Lincoln County with an enrollment of about 200 children, including a high school class of 55-60. The school is proud of its small class sizes and new stature as a football powerhouse.
Smaller football teams appear to be the wave of the future as prep athletes have more options, including soccer and a wide range of other activities. According to Waldport Athletic Director Steve Cooper, the state body that regulates prep athletics is experimenting with future team sizes of six, nine and 11 players.
“Six-man football has turned out to be really popular and successful, so you’ll be seeing more in the coming years,” said Cooper.
In six-man ball, three players are on the line, and three in the backfield. The quarterback can pass or hand off, but not run past the line of scrimmage. Every player is eligible for the pass. The 100-yard field is narrower, 40 yards wide instead of 54. It takes 15 yards to make a first down, and points after the kick are reversed: two for a pass, one for a kick.
“It really can be exciting,” said Buel. “You don’t see the center run for a pass very often.”