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Alconbury sophomore Arous Brown leaps to pull in a reception during a recent practice at Alconbury High School.

Alconbury sophomore Arous Brown leaps to pull in a reception during a recent practice at Alconbury High School. (Bryan Mitchell / S&S)

Alconbury sophomore Arous Brown leaps to pull in a reception during a recent practice at Alconbury High School.

Alconbury sophomore Arous Brown leaps to pull in a reception during a recent practice at Alconbury High School. (Bryan Mitchell / S&S)

Alconbury Head Coach Duke Eidt gives his team instructions during a recent practice.

Alconbury Head Coach Duke Eidt gives his team instructions during a recent practice. (Bryan Mitchell / S&S)

RAF ALCONBURY — Sophomore wide-out Arous Brown has quickly become a fan of nine-man football, giving the Dragons’ 6-foot-5, go-to receiver room to stretch the field and find open spaces.

“To me, it’s still the same game, it just opens up the field,” he said during a recent practice. “The passing game is wide open, and I like that as a receiver.”

But junior linebacker Yul McGrath prefers the conventional 11-man format, where runs up the middle translate into direct contact.

“You see people juking, spinning and dancing to get away. It’s entertaining,” he said of the nine-man game.

“But I’m not a very dancing person. I’m more of a power player.”

Brown and McGrath are part of what is partially a throwback to the early days of American high school football in Europe and partly the result of the continued downsizing of the U.S. military overseas.

A handful of the smallest Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe football programs have formed a league of nine-man teams that compete in Division IV. Hanau, Germany; Brussels, Belgium; and Alconbury and Menwith Hill in the U.K. have each adopted the scaled-down gridiron format.

Nine-, eight-, and seven-man football squads square off under the Friday-night lights at small high schools in the United States. The smaller teams are also popular in Canada.

Alconbury head coach Duke Eidt said some of the first football programs at U.S. military high schools in Europe during the 1940s and ’50s played nine-man football. Its return was prompted by diminishing populations at schools and students’ welfare.

Eidt was a former coach at the now-defunct London Central High School, which also suited up a relatively small football squad.

“It got to the end of the season, and you’d have a few injuries and there just wouldn’t be enough kids to put on the field and keep it safe for everyone,” Eidt said as his squad practiced kick-offs and kick-off returns.

“In the end, it was about safety.”

England’s two nine-man teams will clash Saturday at Alconbury.

Alconbury (0-4) has struggled this season, but looks to rebound against its in-country nine-man rival, Menwith Hill, which is 1-3 after its 47-29 victory over Brussels on Saturday.

“We like to win, but we haven’t had that success yet,” Brown said. “But we have a lot of fun, and we have a lot of heart.”

Regardless of the number of players on a team — 11, nine or a couple of friends on a sandlot — there’s not much more you can ask for from football.

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