STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
MARBLE FALLS — Not many 11-man football teams would attempt to complete a season with 14 players on its roster.
The Faith Academy of Marble Falls Flames are the exception.
The experience on the team, which is 0-4 on the season, ranges from those who have played several years to one upperclassman who picked up a football for the first time this season.
But they’ve all impressed head coach Pete Rhoades, who is in his first year at the school.
“I really thought and anticipated we’d have 16 to 18 kids coming out, and we had 14,” he said. “It gave me a whole new definition of iron man football. I’ve never coached at a place where you have to do that.”
Eight players never leave the field after the opening kickoff.
Rhoades noted the stark differences between varsity and sub-varsity football. In addition to the physicality and speed at the varsity level, games are eight minutes longer, so players have to be in shape — even with rosters of 50 or more.
That’s even more important for the Flames.
Senior Cab Booth said it didn’t take players long to realize they needed to be in great condition to play 48 minutes. They learned that after week one’s 39-8 loss to Centerpoint, which resulted in more running during practices and players taking on more responsibility.
Rhoades said he’s gained a new respect for his team.
“These kids are definitely not losers in life,” he said. “They stay out there fighting and never quit.”
Booth, who wants to play college football, said the small roster hasn’t fazed him, noting he has played several positions ever since he joined the program as a freshman.
“It’s not new to me to have to play on the field at all times,” he said.
Sophomore Alden Littlefield is in his first year at Faith Academy and plays left guard on the offensive line, outside linebacker on defense, and on the line on special teams. Though he played in Burnet for two years and was on a six-man team in Round Rock, Littlefield said he has learned a lot about the game playing for Faith.
“You learn how to play the whole game and to go out and get more conditioning to not get tired,” he said.
Junior Cameron Bowles, a longtime basketball player, decided to try out for football because of the shortage of players. He starts at cornerback and is a reserve right tackle on the offensive line.
“I’m trying to help my school and team,” he said. “I would want somebody from the football team to play basketball so I could have a season. I figured I wanted to get the experience coming out of high school.”
He gets the same excited feeling running out onto the field as he does hitting the court to start a game.
“It’s a little bit different,” he said. “In the back of your mind, you know you’re going to get hit as soon as you make contact. Your mind is zoned in. Everything else is in the background.”
He’s learned a lot of technique, he said, and how to stay stride for stride with a receiver.
“Football is a lot of mentality,” he said. “Playing cornerback, you have to run the whole time, you have to be on it or they’ll make you look like a fool.”
Rhoades used one word to sum up Bowles’ reason for playing: unity.
“Cameron has bought into that,” he said. “He’s willing to do whatever he can for the school to unify the team.”
Learning multiple positions lets the players appreciate what their teammates do and the challenges they face.
“I think the neatest thing is how the team has bonded together,” Rhoades said. “For a kid like Cameron, it’s neat to watch the kids and how they’ve taken to him. They want him to improve and help us finish our goal of finishing the season.”
The small number means the Flames can’t practice 11 on 11. Instead, Rhoades lines up at quarterback and hands the ball off to running backs as they follow blockers on one side of the line.
“We do go against each other,” Littlefield said. “It’s just the right side of the defense against the left side of the offense or the left side of the defense against the right side of the offense, so they can go together.”
Rhoades said that’s been the hardest part in preparing his team.
The small number of players means the Flames might not have as many hitting drills, but Booth said that doesn’t mean they hold back.
“We’re going full speed but making sure everyone is healthy,” he said. “Definitely, it comes with instinct. We want to make those big plays and big hits, and we want to make sure we’re playing in our season.”
Coaches also aren’t able to create competition for spots, a valuable part of preparation throughout the season and for the future.
“That’s the difficult thing,” Rhoades said, “but the kids get after it and deserve their spots.”
The coach looks forward to the time before practices begin when the players walk into the fieldhouse where they all talk about life.
“Football teaches life lessons,” he said. “If you quit on the field, you’ll quit your job, you’ll quit more when it gets tough. I think this will make better young men down the road. Hopefully, they’ll use this as an example of life making you a winner.”
Booth said no matter the outcome of each game, he knows ahead of time how he’ll react.
“Ultimately, I keep my head up, keep an optimistic view,” he said. “Instead of being worried, I turn it into selflessness bonding with the guys and make sure we give our all. As long as you’re making plays on the field and putting in the work it takes, I’ll keep an optimistic view.”