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Spotlight on prep football: Howard football team battling low numbers

HOWARD--Howard has won state football titles in Class 11B, 9AA and 9A, but this year, the Tigers are struggling to even field a 9B team. Two years removed from winning its Class 9A title, Howard is playing in Class 9B for the second straight seas...

The Howard High School football team gathers following a 2014 state football playoff game at the Tigers' home field in Howard. (Republic file photo)
The Howard High School football team gathers following a 2014 state football playoff game at the Tigers' home field in Howard. (Republic file photo)

HOWARD-Howard has won state football titles in Class 11B, 9AA and 9A, but this year, the Tigers are struggling to even field a 9B team.

Two years removed from winning its Class 9A title, Howard is playing in Class 9B for the second straight season and that is uncharted waters for the program.

"It will get better as a we go, but it is just something new for us," Howard coach Pat Ruml said.

The Tigers are struggling with low participation numbers this year. They have just 15 players on the roster, but two have missed time due to injury and one is out for the season.

"Everybody goes through this, we just never have had to," Ruml added.

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Howard has just one senior on the roster and it's playing five freshmen. The Tigers are even practicing against their seventh and eighth graders but that has its limitations.

"Our junior high kids have actually stepped in to help us out, to give us a look on scout team," Ruml said, "but obviously we can't have any contact with them. So it makes it tough when it comes to Friday night because of the speed of the game because we don't get to see any of it in practice."

The depleted Tigers have faced Class 9AA foes like Baltic, Canistota and Chester Area that feature around 30 players. Howard will play Class 9AA powerhouse Mount Vernon/Plankinton (40 players) later this month.

Playing against teams in the higher divisions does not have bonuses like it used to.

"I have never been down at 9B before and quite frankly-last year and this year-it is not great to be at the bottom because you don't get any extra points for playing the 9AA teams," Ruml said. "None. You used to get points for playing up. Now we get none."

According to the South Dakota High School Activities Association website, seed points are awarded based on opponent's win percentage (opponents wins divided by opponents number of games played).

The Tigers first four opponents this season-Baltic, Parker, Canistota and Chester Area-have a combined 19-2 record. Howard defeated its only Class 9B opponent Burke/South Central on Sept. 23 for its first win of the season.

The Tigers will host Menno/Marion tonight in their homecoming game in Howard. They will play another Class 9A team, Hanson, in the final game of the season.

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Despite its 1-4 record, Howard leads Class 9B Region 4 with 39.400 seed points and Ruml feels the team will benefit from playing teams from higher divisions come playoff time.

"I think we can get into playoffs and maybe win a game or two," Ruml said. "I really do."

Ruml said the school has not discussed co-oping with another team and they just need to get through this year. There will be 10 eighth-grade boys coming in as freshmen next season and Ruml expects the team to have around 24 players.

Even that is a far cry from 2008 when Ruml began coaching the then-Class 11B squad.

"When I got there, we had to play Tri-Valley (in the playoffs)," Ruml said. "We are a long ways from that. Things have changed so much."

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