DRAYTON, N.D. -- The one-player blocking sled sits near the football practice field here. The wear and tear of age shows on the piece of equipment. The metal is rusting and much of the padding is held together by duct tape.
“We might have gotten that while we were in one of our football co-ops,’’ Murph Thompson said. “It sat in a storage building for a long time, until it was moved outside the last few years. It’s not in the best shape.’’
The only thing older than the blocking sled in the Drayton High School football program is Thompson. The 63-year-old was coach of the program from 1980 to 1984, when it folded due to inadequate participation numbers. Now, after 35 years and four different co-op alignments, Drayton football is back and Thompson is the coach.
The school is fielding a 6-man team this season.
“After we folded our program and started joining co-ops, I never thought we’d be seeing the Drayton Bombers back in football,’’ Thompson said. “I didn’t know if we’d ever have enough kids with the interest to have a team. We just didn’t have that many kids in school.
“But we’ve had a swing in a different direction, with more kids in the school. It’s nice to be able to field our own team again.’’
The last two seasons, Drayton was with Grafton in a co-op. But Grafton dropped Drayton as well as St. Thomas in order to drop from Class AA this season.
“Grafton was in a situation where, by dissolving their co-ops, they could get down to Class A,’’ said Drayton superintendent Dean Ralston, a former prep football coach. “I understood their situation. They were looking out for what’s best for their kids. That’s the responsibility of all schools.
“We were kind of left alone on an island for football. We surveyed our kids -- did they want to play football and, if so, would they be willing to play 6-man? And the kids seem to be liking it, both playing and not having to travel to practices every day.’’
There are 19 players in the program, 11 of whom are in grades 9-12. The school has only 10 male students in grades 10-12. Six of them are playing football.
The only athletes in the top four grades who played with Grafton last season are freshmen Antonio Navarro and Cayden Quibell.
“We were thinking about this last year,’’ Thompson said. “Twice, we took a van full of kids over to watch Midway-Minto (play 6-man games) to see what it was like, and they thought it looked fun.’’
Senior Trey Cummings is back in football, playing for the first time since he was a seventh-grader.
“I thought it would be cool to bring (the sport) back to Drayton,’’ Cummings said. “All of us have fathers and grandfathers who played back before we were in co-ops. We’ve heard their football stories. We want to live that. It’s been fun. With hardly any experience, we’ve mainly worked on fundamentals.’’
New is the common word for the Bombers’ program.
The team is using the same field as Drayton used in 1984. But it has been reconfigured for the smaller 6-man dimensions. There is a new scoreboard on the north end. The old goal posts, each of which had a busted upright, were removed and new ones put up. There’s new equipment, new uniforms, even a new Bombers logo.
“It’s still a plane, but it’s a little more modern looking, with a little more aggressive look to it,’’ Thompson said.
The price tagging for starting football was approximately $15,000 to $18,000, Ralston said. “That was reasonable,’’ Ralson staid. “It’s a significant investment for the school. But it's investing in our kids. And that cost pales compared to the expenses of being in a co-op.’’
The team has a six-game schedule. How good the team can be is uncertain. Practices started with the basics -- learning how to put on the padding. The Bombers have worked their way through blocking and tackling drills and are into offensive formations.
“We’ll put a few athletes on the field and see how we can do,’’ Thompson said.
“Obviously, we’ll go through some growing pains. We’re starting from scratch. These kids don’t have a lot of football experience. We’re re-creating a program.’’