There are plenty of high school football teams that have to overcome a shortage of players, sometimes forcing individual stars to play on both sides of the ball. Winooski (Vt.) High expects that. In fact, it expects much more: the team features just 16 players, meaning that even one rough game of injuries could force the entire season to be cancelled.
The dilemma, as highlighted by the Burlington Free Press, paints a compelling picture of one team's struggle to come to grips with both school demographics and general apathy when it comes to one of high school life's most enduring pastimes.
It hasn't always been that way for Winooski, which had depth at multiple positions in 2012 (you can see highlights from one game played by last year's Winooski squad below). Yet the Class of 2013 graduated a number of players and the team was stunned when no rising freshmen came out for the team at all.
In fact, the case may be even more dire than the 16 players that the team is reporting; only 12 of those 16 attended the team's summer workouts.
As the Free Press notes, Winooski's struggle isn't unique in Vermont. With a sparse, largely rural population, the state has an number of schools that struggle to attract enough players to field healthy teams. Two different small schools were forced to forfeit games in 2012, though surprisingly one was Montpelier (Vt.) High, which had to voluntarily abandon two games due to safety concerns amidst low participation. More desperately, Springfield (Vt.) High canceled its entire varsity slate early in the season and switched to a junior varsity schedule because of a lack of depth.
Winooski is trying to avoid a similar fate, all while quietly maintaining optimism thanks to a roster that includes multiple returning running backs, both of the team's quarterbacks and a number of linebackers and linemen.
"I'm not putting out kids who are not ready, so that part I feel we can safely go forward, but football is an attrition thing," Winooski coach Josh Safran told the Free Press. "We will play. I think that’s a Winooski thing. I told the kids, ‘If we have 11 to start the game, we'll play and if we go to 10 and the refs will still let us play, we'll play with 10.'
"They are confident in their fitness level, confident in their ability and they just have a senior swagger to them. On their watch, they are not going to let this team fold."