Prep Football: RCW's move was just a matter of time
Two years ago, even the most proud and stubborn Renville County West football fan had to be thinking the end was near.
The team was down to a handful of players and had to forfeit half its varsity games because of the low numbers. It was either that or dig down into its junior high rosters and put those undersized, inexperienced kids up against teams comprised mostly of athletes four or five years older, competing in perhaps the state's best Class A conference.
The coaching staff would have none of that, and while they regrouped in 2011 to play out the string in 11-man football, the groundwork was being laid to move to 9-man in the Southern Confederacy Conference this year.
On Aug. 31, in Madelia, the Jaguars begin a new and hopefully promising chapter in RCW football.
"This is a better situation for us," said RCW's third-year head coach Ryan Hebrink, a former Jaguar player. "Hopefully the transition will go well and we'll be able to compete. I think there's a little more excitement this year than we've had (recently)."
An exact roster number is always fluid in a rebuilding program, but Hebrink expects between 25 and 28 players, from the freshman to senior classes, to suit up this season. That's about double what the program had when the 2011 season began.
"We're actually feeling pretty excited about our numbers," said Hebrink, who had just seven juniors and seniors on the 2010 team that had to suspend its varsity schedule. "It got tight last year but we were able to make it through the 11-man season."
The Jaguars were competing in the tough Little Sioux Conference, which featured powerful squads such as 2011 Class A state champion Dawson-Boyd, as well as Minneota and MACCRAY. Those three teams combined for a 29-6 record last season.
RCW played one 9-man game during the regular season against Brandon/Evansville, and the Jaguars were allowed to compete in the 9-Man playoffs against Hills-Beaver Creek last fall. They were 1-8 last season.
Despite the tough time the Jaguars experienced in the Little Sioux, it may steel them for what they will encounter in the 14-team Southern Confederacy Conference, which includes 2011 state 9-Man champion Edgerton/Ellsworth and Nicollet, a 9-2 state tournament team last year.
"We're definitely in a very good conference," Hebrink said. "We go from the Little Sioux, which is arguably the best Class A conference in the state, to the Southern Confederacy, which you could argue is the best 9-Man conference in the state. It certainly won't be easy by any means."
The change in the game isn't dramatic: take the two tackles off the field on both sides of the ball and that's about the only difference, Hebrink said.
RCW's players have adapted well.
"You have the same number of players eligible to catch the ball or run the ball," Hebrink said. "You're just taking the tackles off the field. For the backs and receivers, there a few things that are different, but the kids picked up on it really well. Our coaches picked the best scheme that fits our team well and kids picked up on it. We're ahead of where we were last year."
The most significant difference will be the rest players are afforded during the game and the ability to endure injuries, he said.
"It gives us an opportunity where kids can come off the field and get a few breaks from time to time," Hebrink said. "No one on these teams has to worry about playing time, but if they don't have to be on the field for every play -- offense, defense, special teams -- it will help them."
Hebrink will have two significant life milestones to file away on Aug. 31. His football team will be making its 9-Man debut just hours after his wife, Brittany, gives birth to the couple's third child, a daughter who will be delivered by C-section that day.
Hebrink said he will be there for the birth and hopefully will later travel alone to coach the Jaguars at Madelia.
"It will be quite a day," he said.