EASTHAM — Just 11 players at a time take the field for each team in a football game. But behind them are the special teams and substitutes who provide the range and depth that allow for safe play. A short roster led the coaches at Nauset Regional High School to forfeit the football team’s game against Mashpee on Friday, Oct. 1.
The low head count, they say, is the result of pandemic year dynamics that left some students feeling football was no fun anymore.
“We simply do not have enough players to safely field a varsity team,” Nauset Athletic Director John Mattson said Monday. He added, however, that “the team is practicing, and the goal is to continue to play our games.”
Head Football Coach Bruce Strunk said the team is planning on playing its home game against Sandwich on Friday, Oct. 8. Nauset’s annual homecoming game against Barnstable is scheduled for the following week, on Oct. 15. The Warriors are currently 0-3, and there was no word on whether the Mashpee game would be rescheduled.
Strunk said he knew last spring that football would have lower numbers, with several seniors having graduated. But rebuilding the team has been more difficult than usual this year because the pandemic left players dispirited.
“The kids that came back this year — they said last year was horrible,” Strunk said. “The kids on the fence — they’re not coming out.”
Last year was basically a wash for high school football across Massachusetts. The state organized an alternate “Fall II” sports season that had football teams play a shortened schedule during the late winter and spring. Nauset managed to play five games and went 1-4.
The Fall II schedule meant the football season didn’t wrap up until the end of April. Nauset usually begins practicing for the fall season in August. That’s a short turnaround for a physically demanding sport.
Last season was characterized by “inactivity,” Strunk said. “I think some kids felt comfortable with that,” he added, although “I had seniors come to me and say they weren’t having fun.”
Strunk said about 10 or 12 players from last year’s team opted not to play this fall, and the team now has only three seniors. Several players suffered injuries that forced them to sit out last week’s game. That left the team with only about 30 active players, mostly juniors and underclassmen, as well as one eighth grader.
Strunk met with school administrators, Mattson, and the school’s athletic trainer, Michelle Pavlu, and the group decided it had to forfeit the game against Mashpee.
Most starters play both sides of the ball at the high school level, but a sufficient number of substitutes is needed in case of injury and to give the starters a few breathers during games.
Strunk said the team was starting four freshmen this season. He felt they were physically capable of playing at the varsity level, but added it did not seem safe to put some of the other freshmen, who weren’t physically ready, out on the field.
“Kids develop at different levels,” he said. “We put the safety of our players first.”
Pre-pandemic, the Warriors had one of its better seasons in 2019-2020. Nauset went 6-5 and won a home playoff game for the first time in program history, in a 28-21 victory over the Dighton-Rehoboth Falcons in the Division 4 South quarterfinals.
Strunk said he hopes the program can bounce back as high school sports return to normal over the next couple of years. He noted that reticence about playing is now a widespread problem. He said other schools he’s been in touch with, including Dennis-Yarmouth, Barnstable, and Monomoy, all have low roster numbers this season.
“It’s not just a Nauset thing,” he said.