TAWAS CITY – With the number of high school football teams making the switch to 8-man, the landscape of 11-man game has been evolving in recent years. The changes will take effect in this area as well, as Tawas Area, Alcona and Rogers City were recently accepted into the Northern Michigan Football League, beginning with the 2021 season.

“Over the years that we have existed, we have tried to keep our teams from feeling the ravage of teams going 8-man and I feel we have done a good job of that,” NMFL secretary and Frankfort athletic director Dave Jackson said. “When Tawas, who has been looking for a league for a while contacted us, we felt it was a great fit. Tawas is the type of school you’re looking to be involved with.”

The league has been in existence since the 2014 season, and is broken up into three divisions, primarily by enrollment. The Braves will take part in the largest division, dubbed the Legends Division. Teams included in that division, with 2019-20 enrollment numbers are Sault Ste Marie (700), Ogemaw Heights (624), Cheboygan (527), Benzie Central (505), Grayling (473), Kingsley (443) and Traverse City St. Francis (355). Tawas has an enrollment of 421. 

“(Tawas athletic director) Matt Unke was very strong about the fact that he was doing this for Tawas and was looking out for his kids and school and wanted to be a part of it,” Jackson said. “He wants what is best for his kids and I admire him for that.”

While it is certainly going to ramp up the level of competition compared to previous schedules, Aaron Hazen, who is set to enter his first season as varsity head coach of the Braves isn’t shying away from any challenges. After all, starting this fall the MHSAA has done away with the automatic six-win qualifier in favor of a system that awards strength of schedule.

“Our athletes and community are extremely excited for this opportunity,” Hazen said. “It is going to bring a new level of football to Tawas and we are going to be able to continue the legacy Tawas football created.”

Alcona and Rogers City will enter the Legacy Division, consisting the smallest teams enrollment wise. They will face off with Harbor Springs (280), East Jordan (250), Johannesburg-Lewiston (226), St. Ignace (209) and Frankfort (174). Rogers City has an enrollment of 214 and Alcona has a listed enrollment of 225. 

“I think Rogers City and Alcona fit in real well with our small schools,” Jackson said. I’ve been impressed with all three (Tawas, R-C, Alcona). They are trying to do what is best for their kids and all seem like a good fit for the NMFL.”

Jackson also added that with Inland Lakes recently announcing it intends to begin play in 8-man football starting the 2020 season, they will be looking to add one more school. Oscoda athletic director Scott Lueck expressed interest in seeing their football program taking that spot. The Owls have an enrollment of 295.

“We have talked about the opening, but we haven’t officially applied,” he said. “It is definitely possible, it would be good for us. It is going to be good for travel and good for the schedule. I am worried about Whittemore-Prescott (225 enrollment), but I have talked to them and they are thinking going into the Mid-State Athletic Conference (in football only) is going to be a better fit for them as far as travel and schedule so it looks like we would all land on our feet. I wouldn’t want to ostracize them. This isn’t official though and everything is pretty much on hold (due to COVID-19).” 

Teams in the Leaders Division are Kalkaska (468), Boyne City (418), Glen Lake (395), Elk Rapids (366), Charlevoix (335) and Mancelona (297).