TUALATIN — The 2016 season was definitely a challenging one for the Horizon Christian High School football team.
With a diminishing number of players, and trying to battle in the powerful Class 3A West Valley League, the Hawks went 0-6 in WVL play and 0-9 on the season, with four of those losses coming by forfeit.
Well, this year, the Horizon Christian squad is facing a new challenge. Only, this time, the Hawks are planing on having fun with it — and they're definitely going to run with it.
Horizon Christian, looking to build up its program, will be playing an independent, eight-man schedule for the 2017 season.
"Every year, there's a challenge," Horizon Christian coach George Crace said. "We're trying to rebuild. Ever since we had 15 seniors in 2015, we've been trying to build back up. The game plan is to play an independent, eight-man schedule this year, build back up, and rejoin the West Valley League in 2018."
The Hawks say they're ready to take on this year's challenge.
"I've never played eight-man football before," Horizon Christian senior tight end/defensive end Brannon Macfarlane said. "It's been fun."
"Never before," echoed Horizon Christian senior quarterback/tight end/defensive end Nathan Murrell. "Some guys are playing out of position, but we're adapting to this new lifestyle. It looks like it's going to be fun."
"It's a good thing," Macfarlane said. "It keeps us playing football. And we've got some good athletes."
"A lot of us are going to be playing both ways," Murrell said. "We've been conditioning a lot."
With good reason. After all, in Oregon, eight-man football is played on a regulation-sized football field.
"It could be like basketball scores," Crace said. "If you can't tackle, and you don't have speed, you're in trouble."
Crace does have a bit of experience coaching eight-man football, as he helped out with the Horizon Christian eighth-grade team two years ago, when that team played eight-man football.
"If you can spread the field, and throw the ball, that's good," he said.
Murrell (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) and Macfarlane (6-1, 200) are two of the four seniors on the Horizon Christian roster, and they'll be looked on to help lead the team.
"They're two talented seniors," Crace said of Murrell and Macfarlane, who are both in their fourth year in the Horizon Christian program.
"We just get to keep playing," McFarlane said. "Most people don't get to do this after high school. It's a good experience."
"It's like we each have our own personal coach out here," Murrell said. "It's amazing."
One of the other seniors, Bryce Panichello (5-11, 165), will play at running back and linebacker. He's in his third year on the team.
The Hawks' other senior is offensive guard/defensive tackle Sam Mickel (5-11, 225).
"Our four seniors have to make it happen," Crace said.
One of the team's talented group of juniors is Luke Klein (5-10, 175). Klein, in his first year playing football, is listed as a running back/quarterback/linebacker/defensive back for the Hawks.
"He's got great leadership skills," Crace said of Klein. "He got two more guys to come out and play this year."
One of those players is junior running back/linebacker Elliot Adams (5-9, 155), who hasn't played football since seventh grade.
Junior center/middle linebacker Josh Thompson (6-1, 235) will likely be a key player on both sides of the ball for Horizon Christian.
"He's going to be huge for us," Crace said. "He's got good center skills and he's a big kid, and a smart kid. He's our strongest kid."
Sophomore Jacob Robertson (6-0, 215) will start at left guard for the Hawks.
Junior receiver/defensive back Anthony Petit (5-7, 145) will be counted on to give Horizon Christian some speed.
"He's our fastest kid," Crace said. "He has great feet."
Other players on the Horizon Christian roster include sophomore receiver/defensive end Alex Quintana (5-8, 130), junior receiver/defensive back Benny Tudorache (6-2, 172), freshman running back/linebacker Dylan Smith (5-4, 120), freshman receiver/defensive back Justin Peterson (5-10, 130), freshman receiver/defensive back Nathan Bullis (5-11, 150), freshman receiver/defensive back Cole Armstrong (6-1, 145), sophomore offensive lineman/defensive lineman Jacob Robertson (6-0, 215) and junior offensive lineman/defensive lineman Max Brazie (6-4, 230).
"We hope it will be fun," Crace said. "Let's have fun, and hope others will be attracted and come back here. We want to get some momentum going."
The Hawks will be playing a six-game schedule this year, including contests against Mohawk, Arlington, Dufur (home), Siletz Valley (home), Falls City (home) and Seton Catholic, Wash.