Jesse Powell (right) and the Polo Marcos enter a new era this fall when they kick off their first season in the Illinois 8-Man Football Association, which includes four road trips.
Jesse Powell (right) and the Polo Marcos enter a new era this fall when they kick off their first season in the Illinois 8-Man Football Association, which includes four road trips. — Earleen Hinton/Shaw Media

Change has been seemingly the only constant for Polo since its

decision in late January to play 8-man football starting this fall.

With a finalized schedule, the Marcos can finally start to prepare for their first season as a member of the Illinois 8-Man Football Association.

Polo will begin its season Friday, Aug. 30 at home against Danville Schlarman.

“Our schedule has actually changed twice, so I didn’t really know what to think initially,” Polo coach Jeff Bumsted said. “We weren’t even supposed to play Schlarman initially; we were supposed to play [Champaign] Judah Christian. We were supposed to play [Rockford] Christian Life in Week 3, but now we’re playing Bunker Hill.”

Schlarman – which was previously in a co-op with Hoopeston Area and Armstrong-Potomac – is one of six teams on the Marcos’ schedule in its first season playing 8-man football. The others are Bunker Hill (Week 3), Elgin Westminster Christian (Week 4), Metro-East Lutheran (Week 5), River Ridge (Week 8) and Pawnee (Week 9).

Bumsted said film exchange will stay the same in the fact that teams will have an opponent’s previous two games to analyze. All of the I8FA’s teams use Hudl, a company that allows coaches and athletes to review game footage.

“It’s going to be interesting not just for us, but for everybody,” Bumsted said. “No one knows what anybody is going to do scheme-wise. In our first week against Schlarman, we have no clue, but they have no clue about us.”

The Marcos will travel 372 miles round-trip to Jacksonville to play the Illinois School for the Deaf in Week 2 on Saturday, Sept. 7. ISD has played 8-man for several years.

Polo will also play Westminster Christian and Pawnee on Saturdays, with both being road games. The rest of the Marcos’ games will be played on Friday nights.

“I would say our biggest challenge is being on a bus that long and then going out to play,” Bumsted said. “The good thing is that the long road trips are Saturdays, so it’ll have a playoff atmosphere that should get us ready for the playoffs.”

Polo will host Bunker Hill in Week 3 – a program who opted for 8-man after its co-op with Mount Olive under the “South Mac” banner ended after last season. The Marcos’ closest road game – a 136-mile round-trip to Westminster Christian in Elgin – awaits in Week 4.

Polo beat Westminster Christian in the first round of the Class 1A playoffs in 2015.

The Marcos avoid the long trip to Edwardsville once again by hosting Metro-East Lutheran for a second straight year in Week 5. Polo beat the Knights 49-12 last year in a game where the referees then had to travel to Freeport to officiate a game between Aquin and AFC.

The Marcos will take on defending I8FA runner-up Alden-Hebron on the road in Week 6. The Giants are entering their third season playing 8-man, and have aspirations of a title after falling to Milford-Cissna Park in the inaugural 8-man state championship last fall.

Polo’s fresh-soph team played Alden-Hebron and Christian Life last year on 8-man fields, which have a width of 39 1/3 yards – 14 yards narrower than a regular field.

As an Iowa native, Bumsted has coaching connections with teams that are experienced in 8-man football. He even coached 8-man at Worth County High School in Grant City, Missouri for a year.

“I don’t think we’re at a disadvantage,” Bumsted said. “All of our fresh-soph games were 8-man last year. We played eight fresh-soph games, and all but one was true 8-man. The other was 9-man. We even shortened our field. We’re in the same boat as most of the schools, but we might be ahead in our first year.”

The Marcos will host Lake Forest Academy – playing in its second season as an I8FA member – in Week 7. LFA is coached by Michael Buchanan, who is a former defensive end for the University of Illinois and the New England Patriots.

River Ridge will visit Polo in Week 8 in a meeting of former NUIC Upstate foes. The Wildcats beat the Marcos 6-0 last year, which snapped a five-game winning streak in the series for Polo.

River Ridge’s former co-op partner, Warren, will play with Black Hawk High School out of South Wayne, Wisconsin this fall. With three teams leaving the conference for football, the NUIC changed from the Northwest and Upstate divisions to North and South divisions.

The Marcos close the regular season with a 408-mile round-trip to Pawnee, located south of Springfield along Interstate 55.

All 16 teams in the I8FA make the playoffs, meaning the Marcos could see another former opponent it faced in the Class 1A playoffs. Polo beat Cuba North Fulton 32-30 in the second round in 2008.