FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Fuqua Falcons make transition to 8-man
It’s a year of transition for Fuqua on and off the football field. The team is converting from 11-man to 8-man competition and is doing it with a new person in charge. Tyler Cristo took over both as football coach and athletic director back in May. Cristo spent the last four years in the Prince Edward County school system, while also being heavily involved with the Prince Edward County Youth Association. Now he’s in charge of a group learning not only new positions, but how to play a different version of the sport.
“When you’re out on the field, you can’t really tell that it’s only eight (players),” Cristo said. “The main differences are that there are five men on the line of scrimmage and the field is narrow. It’s 40 yards instead of 53. If it was 53, the scores would be astronomically high.”
The width of the field for 8-man competition is 40 yards. That’s about 13 1/3 narrower than the traditional field, which is 53 1/3 wide. All of that translates to a much faster game than regular high school football, with scores that can reach the 70s at times. For Cristo, that means the key to winning is speed.
“The main thing is if you have some skill guys with speed, you’re good,” Cristo said. “If you can get to the edge (offense and defense), you’re good.”
It’s a change that comes after a rough 2022 season. The Falcons went 2-8 on the year, including a four game losing streak to wrap up the season. They especially struggled on the defensive side, giving up 327 points while only scoring a total of 170. But that was while playing 11-man football. Now things are changing.
Creating something new
When someone mentions Fuqua football, Cristo wants them to think of a relentless and competitive team. He also wants them to think about the run.
“We’re not a pass-oriented team, we’re a run-oriented team,” Cristo said.
He’s been helped in making that transition work by upperclassmen on the line, both offense and defense.
“My senior core group are great leaders,” Cristo said. “The o-line and d-line are gonna be pretty good. We’re senior heavy there, with five on the line of scrimmage.”
That helps drive everything else, Cristo said. A strong offensive line helps get the run going each night and a strong defensive line keeps the other team from being able to do the same.
Cristo also points to freshman Jackson Hicks as someone who will be key this season.
“We have a good quarterback in Jackson, he just needs the reps,” Cristo said.
And really, he added, that’s true of everyone.
“They’re grasping a new offense,” Cristo said. “There’s assignments they need to get. A new scheme, new cadence. There’s a lot to get used to.”
With so many underclassmen on the team, and switching to a different style of play, Cristo says he understands there will be some trial and error. He just wants players to learn from mistakes.
“I’m ok with some mistakes if they get better the next time,” Cristo said. “We have some young guys that are taking on new roles, so it’ll take time. Penalties do happen, but I don’t want to be an undisciplined team. That just comes with practice and repetitions.”
Playing some catch-up
And while the team is developing, the new coach recognizes they’ll face challenges. One of the challenges Cristo sees in Year One is just that lack of experience with 8-man football.
“The Brunswick Academies and the Southhamptons, they’ve already been 8-man for a while now,” Cristo said. “We go to Charlottesville against Covenant School that first game. They’re a juggernaut. We’re still just catching up.”
But at the end of the day, Cristo said he’s tried to get the team to ignore what’s come before and focus on the future.
“We can’t worry about what’s happened in the past,” Cristo said. “We’re focusing on Fuqua. We’re gonna embrace this change and see where it takes us.”
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