DECATUR (KFSM) - Every football season brings change, and nowhere is that more true than Decatur. The Bulldogs enter the year with a new coaching staff, a new style of play, and most prominently - they're introducing 8-man football to the state of Arkansas.
"I hit the ground running. That's all there is to it. I had to get kids interested. That's number one - just get kids out there wanting to play," head coach James Ortiz explained. "The second thing is enthusiasm. Just get the kids excited to play football again, because football had just fallen off so much here."
A winless season saw Decatur forfeiting their final two games.
When other schools in their conferences had 70 names on the roster, the Bulldogs only had 15. The program was the lowest it had ever been.
"It was a lot of disappointment. It was kind of sad. We didn't want to end the season like that," remembered senior quarterback/linebacker Cayden Bingham. "We wanted to have a winning record. Unfortunately, that wasn't to our advantage. We didn't have the numbers that we needed."
"Disenchanted is the only word I can come up with," Coach Ortiz added. "You could tell they wanted to play football, it's just they weren't getting the opportunity or the chance that they needed."
After discussing options, the decision to have three less players on the field could end up meaning more for Decatur. What the Bulldogs lack in size they make up for in speed - which is prominent in the 8-man style of play.
"We're going to go into it with high expectations, high hopes, but a lot of hard work," Bingham said. "We're going to put in the work to make it good. Do everything that we can to play the game. Of course, it is new to us. We've never done it before. We'll just make the best outcome."
"We're not big. We're fast, agile, and we can move the ball. That's what will really help us here - especially in 8-man," senior receiver/linebacker Austin Hamilton added. "Have our few big guys that we have on the line and the rest of them out wide, running the ball, doing whatever they do best."
There's not many changes to the 8-man rules other than a football field with a width of 40 yards rather than 50 yards. It's essentially the same thing with less players on the field, which gives athletes more time to rest between playing both sides of the ball.
"I think with 8-man football, with the numbers we have, with the teams we're gonna be playing - we're gonna have a better chance of playing against people who are more in line with us," Coach Ortiz said.
This adjustment could be the push that Decatur needs to get back on its feet. Where some players were once considering not coming back this season, they are not excited with anticipation of what's in store for the season.
"It's a new team. Something Decatur's never done before. I'll try it out," Hamilton remembered when he first thought about coming back to play his senior season. "And pretty much just forgot about last season. Just tried putting it in the past and moved forward."
A coaching staff with a desire to change plays a role in how the players have reacted to the adjustments.
"These coaches, they push us. They push us to our limits," Hamilton said. "They make us do more than we can do to make us stronger, make us better, make us better men as a person in all. They have rules for us - finish. Be respectful. And just do what you do best."
Now, it's about involving the community and showing the youth that football can be fun.
"We want our program to be something that kids want to be a part of," Coach Ortiz said. "So they have to see some stuff that's different."
Before things can be better, they have to be different. And if all the building blocks can form the solid foundation that coaches envision, Decatur may be the catalyst in bringing 8-man football to Arkansas.
"I think when the kids see how they're going be able to win, and they look back and see how we've been putting it all together, man I think this program's going to take off," Coach Ortiz said.