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September 01, 2018
By: John Raffel

Sacred Heart has new coach entering 8-player football era


John Ruggles picked a unique time to take over as Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart football coach.

The Fighting Irish are making their debut as an 8-player football team.

It’s his first season as head coach. He’s coached for more than 20 years in various schools. He’s been at Michigan, Georgia and Arizona.

“Around here, most recently I’ve been at Sacred Heart (the last year) and before that I was at Chip Hills and before that at Ferris State,” he said. “I started my career at Ithaca.”

It’s his first time ever as a head coach.

“When Jamie (Slate) got the (defensive coordinator) job at Bay City Western, I decided to throw my hat in the ring,” Ruggles said. “I went to Sacred Heart and played at Sacred Heart. My kids have gone and do go to Sacred Heart. It was a natural to be a part of Sacred Heart.”

Ruggles has been happy so far with the transition to 8-player football.

“It’s been great,” he said. “We started doing several 5-on-5 (passing scrimmages) which correlates better with the 8-man format. The kids have had a great time with it and figuring out the nuances that come with it. It’s still football. The defensive coverage is a little bit different. You just can’t run your normal coverages that we did with 11-man. It’s a little bit of a learning curve. But the coaches and players are excited about it. They’re looking forward to the season.”

But there will be some new looks.

“You’ve got six guys on an 11-man team eligible, in 8-man ball you have five eligible,” Ruggles said. “You only lose one eligible player, but it’s a little different nuances like five men have to be on the line of scrimmage instead of seven. It changes our defensive scheme more than our offensive scheme, although it does change the offensive scheme, no doubt.”

The field is 40 yards wide and 100 yards long.

All nine Sacred Heart games will be in the North Central Thumb League, Red Division.

“We have a little bit of a distance but it will be tough competition,” Ruggles said. “Seven of the nine teams that we’ll play were in the playoffs last year. It will be a tough schedule. If we do well, we should be battle tested by the time we finish the season.