Cutter Morning Star introduced new head football coach Nick Finley on May 10, and Finley immediately got to work improving the Eagles’ numbers for the upcoming season.
The school played its first 8-a-side football season in 2021, and low numbers have plagued the Cutter Morning Star football program lately.
However, in the short time he was in Hot Springs, Finley walked the halls and increased the total number of college players to around 22 to 25 students, an increase from the 12 to 14 players that Finley said , finished last season.
“Did kids come out who just wanted to come back and play,” Finley said. “With junior high, I think that number – seventh to ninth, spoke to a lot of these guys – we’ve got about 40 to 45 right in the lead. Progress has been good.”
The Cutter Morning Star football program is starting to create excitement with a new synthetic turf football pitch, stadium renovations and new helmet decals.
“Kids seem excited about the new offense we’re putting in, which is more like an extended personal look and more like your action game,” Finley said. “I’m just really excited about the kids being excited.”
Finley had to adapt to 8-a-side football coaching after all of his previous coaching experience came at 11-man schools.
“When I draw games on the board for kids when we set up, I always have to make a mental note not to draw five linemen,” he said. “We’re basing it on a three-in-8 lineman game because you have three fewer players, but there really isn’t much difference. Just fewer players on the court.”
Finley said that while there are slight differences between some plays that can be played on both sides of the ball in 8-a-side versus 11-a-side football, many of the same concepts still apply to the game.
“Just trying to understand the players and evaluating them every day is my key right now,” he said. “See who can do what. Some of them can change positions.”
Finley and head basketball coach Beau Brickell have made it their business to create good synergy between all the sports at Cutter Morning Star.
The two coaches have swapped players during summer training to ensure students can participate in both sports.
Baseball head coach Sean Kelloms also takes on a coaching role within the football program.
“Our big key in a small school is that you have to be able to share athletes and do it in good faith and really work with other coaches,” Finley said. “I think that’s what we have here.”
Cutter Morning Star coaches also wanted to limit the number of times players and families had to travel to and from school for various practices during the summer due to gas prices and jobs.
Finley has college football players from 8 to 10 a.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday with a make-up day available on Wednesday.
“At 9 o’clock, junior high school basketball starts, and then once we’re done with that, we kind of flip our athletes,” Finley said. “We are able to relate to each other and really work together. Everything is going well so far. We have much better participation with our children and the participation is going in a positive direction.”
With Eagle Field renovations still underway, the football team practices on a patch next to the stadium and will soon be moving to the baseball complex for a larger practice location.
Training in the summer means high temperatures, and this week county teams face very hot conditions at the training ground.
“Always, always following (Arkansas Activities Association) guidelines with heat, concussions, all that,” Finley said. “We have a cold bath and we have it in the shade. Water – we have four coolers with ice ready to go if anyone should have heat illness. (We put in place) water breaks throughout the workout.”
Finley said even with the high temperatures, the Eagles experienced a breeze over the past two days in practice that helped with the heat.
The Cutter Morning Star coaching staff also taught the players about diet and nutrition as well as hydration. Finley stressed to his players the need to refuel after long hours of practice.
“You really have to keep an eye out for some of these kids who haven’t been in heat, which is our first heat challenge right now this week,” Finley said. “I’ve really tried to work in this water program and make sure we can keep tabs on the kids who are maybe getting a little dizzy, but we haven’t had any.”
The Eagles are also looking for sponsorship and support from community businesses as the new season approaches.
Finley and Cutter Morning Star are just getting started, and the Eagles appear to be having a successful second year of 8-a-side football.
“I’m just thrilled to be here and to be a part of it,” Finley said. “I really think there’s a really good shot that we can possibly make some noise.”