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Country Day moves to 11-man game, ready for trial by fire

Fans of La Jolla Country Day’s football program will notice more than a few changes this season, and the Torreys couldn’t be more excited about them.

After years of playing eight-man football because of the school’s small enrollment, the Torreys will move up to the traditional 11-man game this season.

They will also play on a new synthetic-turf surface on campus and will play all their home games under the lights on Friday nights, rather than Saturday afternoons, when they had previously played their home games.

The combination of changes has created a wave of enthusiasm around the program and on the Country Day campus, especially because the Torreys now feel like they’re part of the excitement of traditional high school football in the San Diego area.

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“Eight-man football is under-publicized in San Diego County,” County Day football Coach Jeff Hutzler said. “In other areas like Los Angeles County, it is well received, but here it’s treated like a red-headed stepchild. The boys are excited. We as a coaching staff were surprised at how excited they were. They look at the Friday night television highlights and the Saturday morning newspaper. Absolutely, they’re excited.”

Perhaps the most noticeable change for the Torreys will be the switch to 11-man football. With an enrollment of just 350 students, they had long played the eight-man game simply because they didn’t have enough students to draw into the football program.

Including the junior varsity team, Country Day has 49 players in the program this year, a record for the school.

With three more players to utilize, they will add two linemen and a back on both sides of the ball. That means Hutzler and his staff will have to work to develop players throughout the system.

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“Your backup guard in eight-man football becomes your starting tackle in 11-man football,” Hutzler explained, adding that the junior varsity guard then becomes the varsity backup at guard, and the effects trickle down until at the lower levels you need to develop more and more players to fill those spots.

“It’s a big step because of the depth required,” the coach said. “Playing 11-man football requires more depth, especially with the lines.”

The other big change for Country Day with moving to 11-man football will be the level of competition. The Torreys had been dominant at the eight-man level, winning the last three CIF-San Diego Section eight-man championships.

With a new 11-man Division V created that includes former eight-man teams that have moved up and smaller Division IV teams that have dropped down, the Torreys don’t expect to be able to crush opponents like they once did.

“The CIF didn’t move us because of our three CIF titles, but I’m sure some of those smaller eight-man schools won’t be terribly sad to see us go,” Hutzler said.

“Moving up will mean we’ll have some different goals. We’ll still try to be Pacific League champions like we were before, but winning a CIF title will be astronomically difficult.”

Hutzler said his goal is to win or finish second in the Pacific League each season, though he knows that placing first would make for a significantly easier run through the playoffs. A second-place finish would mean facing the top seed in Division V in a first-round game, making for an uphill battle toward a championship.

In this first year, Hutzler said he’d be happy with a trip to the division semifinals.

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“We went to football camp this summer and participated in the passing leagues, so the kids have already made the change,” Hutzler said. “It’s still blocking and tackling; you’re either fundamentally sound or you’re not. We don’t fool anybody, so we’ll have to continue to beat them with technique and fundamentals.”

As for the Torreys’ new field, Hutzler said there is a buzz about campus because the team will now play home games on turf and under the lights.

Work crews finished last week installing a turf-tech field, giving the Torreys football team and all its other sports programs a field that has the look and feel of real grass but doesn’t require the maintenance a grass field does.

Lights are currently being installed at the field. They won’t be finished for the team’s first home game - against Hansen from British Columbia on Sept. 2 - but the school will bring in temporary lights for that game.

The Torreys expect to be playing under their permanent lights for the second home game Sept. 16.

“We’re super excited to be playing on Friday nights, and the school as a community is, too,” Hutzler said. “We had 300 people at an intrasquad scrimmage a couple weeks ago. And at a four-team scrimmage last week, I think we had more fans there than the other three schools combined.”