…There is some truth to the claim that six-man is difficult to find, at least for suburbanites outside West Texas. The six-man game is played almost exclusively in very small towns, not Abilene small or even Stamford small, but towns with only one stoplight– like Throckmorton, a crossroad of two-lane highways connecting four slightly larger small towns, a blinking red light strung up where the highways intersect.
Throckmorton sits in a valley where State Highway 183 and State Highway 380 meet. The low hills surrounding it are covered with thickets of mesquite and prickly pear. North on 380 takes you to Seymour, south to Albany. West on Highway 183 leads to Haskell and east to Newcastle. On one corner is the courthouse with a sign on the lawn proclaiming Throckmorton as the home of Dallas Cowboy great Bob Lilly. The town has two restaurants, two convenience stores, a small grocery and a bar open on weekends, and luckily for me, a motel. The Double T Lodge is small, but it’s clean and the owners are friendly. Throckmorton High School is a few blocks northwest of the intersection. The elementary and middle schools are steps away; all three schools share the gym and teachers too, including head football coach Reed…
…Throckmorton has only 63 students and seven teachers, so the young football coach is not only a HC/AD but also teaches a full load of classes. As well as running football, Reed is a basketball assistant, head track coach and teaches Physical Education to students from kindergarten through the high school.
Reed’s house is just across the street from the school; his wife Michelle also teaches and coaches basketball here. The arrangement gives Reed the opportunity to teach his son and daughter, both of whom attend the elementary school. Babysitters are never needed and the coaches don’t choose between family and work, as those in bigger schools do…
How exactly is six-man football different?
• 15 yards for a first down instead of ten.
• Conversions are switched; one point for getting the ball into the end zone from scrimmage, two for kicking it through the uprights.
• All six offensive players are eligible to catch passes. Because this means the whole defense must be in coverage, an exchange is required before the ball carrier can run (No QB runs or scrambles.) In some six-man offenses, the tailback is effectively the quarterback, having the nominal quarterback pitch him the ball, letting the tailback either throw or run.
• The playing field is only 80 yards long and more narrow than a 11-man field with just 13 yards from the hashmark to the sideline.
Gameplay is different. With so much field for the defense to cover, six eligible receivers and so few defenders, scoring is very quick. Davis tells me that the goal of his defense is to force the offense to run seven plays to score, counting on the offense to make a mistake somewhere along the way.
A well-executed offense will score no matter the quality of the defense. As the best basketball defense gives up baskets from time to time, six-man football defenses give up touchdowns. Scores can reach triple digits and it’s rare for a winning team to score under 50 points. The basketball comparison is apt. Six-man football defense, more than anything, resembles a violent form of basketball zone defense.
So much open field results in several consequences. Each defensive player is exposed and can be isolated, often creating mismatches where weak defenders are exploited. Small schools usually have at least one weak defender, giving the superior team a tremendous advantage. Games between solid teams and those with weaknesses often quickly become lopsided, so the game has a mercy rule. Since the Greyhounds began playing six-man in 2004, as many games have ended early as have gone four quarters.
The type of player who does well at this game is often different as well. Good six-man players must be proficient at all football skills. On offense, everyone must block, catch and carry the ball. On defense, everyone must be able to tackle, shed blockers and drop into coverage. With rosters sometimes in the single digits, most six-man players play both offense and defense, many never leave the field. Big linemen aren’t effective here; this version of football favors mid-size players with the endurance and speed to work in the open field. Big players in Throckmorton have an incentive to slim down if they want to play…