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The little team that could: Stuart Hall thrives playing 8-man football

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Stuart Hall High School practices on Treasure Island on Thursday. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Over the last seven years, Stuart Hall has built one of the most successful football programs in San Francisco.

Yes, the school with just over 300 students. The one tucked into Pacific Heights.

No, they don’t have a football facility on campus. They practice on Treasure Island and play games at Boxer Stadium. Their roster has just 22 players. And since 2011, the Knights have gone 31-16.

They play 8-man football at Stuart Hall. Rather than trying to scrape together enough players to field an 11-man football team, the Knights play a style of the game typically employed by small-town teams and other small private schools.

Speed plays a major role in 8-man football. Teams can tweak matchups and personnel much more than in an 11-man game, utilizing between three and five men on the line. Positions are typically dictated by skillsets rather than size.

stuart hall

Jorim Powell (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Jorim Powell, a four-year starter at quarterback and linebacker, is just 5-foot-8, but has become the most decorated player in program history.

“To be a linebacker, you don’t have to necessarily be the biggest guy,” said head coach Richard Robinson. “You have to know how to tackle.”

Powell has made the all-league team in each season he’s played at Stuart Hall and was named MVP of the Mission Trail League as a junior.

“He’s a great player, but he’s a super humble kid,” said Robinson. “It’s like having a teacher on the field.”

After dominating the Mission Trail League for the past few seasons, Stuart Hall has moved to the North Central League. While the Mission Trail League stretches down to the Monterey area, the North Central League is centered around the North Bay and Redwood Empire.

“Rather than just the regular schedule, we have a chance for a postseason and bowl games,” said Robinson. “The kids are really excited for that.”

The only drawback to switching leagues is that the rivalry tilt against Woodside Priory is now a nonleague game.

Saturday’s season-opener at Priory was an absolute thriller, with the Knights falling 58-56 in 106-degree heat. The victorious Panthers were led by an awesome performance from Keyshawn Ashford, who carried the ball 27 times for 224 yards.

stuart hall

Still, moving to a new league provides a chance for new experiences, including an away game against South Fork, located in the small Humboldt County town of Miranda.

“Playing in those small towns is really cool because the whole community comes out to those games,” said Robinson. “The small-town teams like coming to play us because they get to see San Francisco, and we like going on the long trips to see some places some of our kids haven’t heard of before.”

Even though 8-man football doesn’t receive the attention that larger programs get, there’s no shortage of intensity.

“Some people think it’s like flag football, but you’re still tackling and hitting hard,” said Robinson. “There are just fewer guys on the field. It gives kids opportunities to play at schools that might not have enough players for an 11-man team.”

Nick Watts and Sam Cormier are proof that there’s tons of hard-hitting action on an 8-man field. The two set the single-season record for sacks at Stuart Hall as juniors, each bringing down opposing quarterbacks 13 times.

The Knights will play their home opener on Saturday against Upper Lake at 1 p.m. Saturday’s game and Stuart Hall’s two other home games are set for Saturday afternoons at Boxer Stadium in Balboa Park. Boxer has hosted Stuart Hall football for the last three years, replacing Treasure Island as the team’s home site.

Though Stuart Hall has only been playing football since 2010, the Knights have developed a penchant for success. Powell, Watts and Cormier are expected to have monster senior seasons, and wide receiver Quinn Rodriguez is poised to break out as a junior. Stuart Hall football has been building big things for years. Their opponents are familiar with what they can do, and the rest of the football world will soon take notice.

Prep Focus writer Ethan Kassel covers high school sports throughout the Bay Area. Contact him if you have a story tip, game to watch or player to track by emailing him at ethankassel@gmail.com.

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