The issue is the same for the Union High football team.
The Scotties suited up 21 players last year on opening day. This year, the number dipped even lower, to 18, on opening day. Going into the regular season, the number has swelled back to 21.
“One reason is we’re a small school,” veteran Union coach Stacy Robinson said. “The bottom line is football is not for everybody. It’s a physical sport. You have to be tough to play it.”
Robinson said there is no plan in case injuries set in or players walk away from the program to dip the numbers to a more dangerous level.
“People always talk about the numbers,” he said. “In my 23 years, we’ve been low before. Am I ready to panic? No.
“We just hope to keep them healthy and push through the best we can. Do I like it? I sure don’t. I have (21) kids that say they want to play football. We need to stay competitive and win football games.”
Last year, Union finished 3-7 after the team captured eight wins and a playoff victory the year before.
“I kind of viewed it as a rebuilding season,” Robinson said. “We lost some good players from the previous season.
“The Big Seven was strong once again. We weren’t that discouraged. I thought we got better every week.”
Robinson will turn to senior quarterback Tyler Benedict (6-foot, 185 pounds) to once again run the team’s offense. Last year, Benedict was 94 of 149 through the air for 1,088 yards with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also scored five other touchdowns.
“You wouldn’t think it, but he’s escapable and can extend the play,” Robinson said of Benedict. “He has a ton of experience.
“Tyler started last year. He played considerably as a freshman and sophomore. He has a strong arm and an excellent grasp of the offense. He knows the pressure is on his shoulders. Tyler is ready to leave his mark at Union.”
Michael Flowers, a 5-8, 160-pound senior running back/defensive back, will shoulder the team’s load on the ground. Flowers toted the ball 113 times last year for 337 yards with five touchdowns and four two-point conversions.
Flowers also ranked fifth in the county in receiving with 25 catches for 355 yards.
“Flowers is definitely elusive,” Robinson said. “He has put on some weight in the offseason.
“He can do it all. He can catch, run, be our return man. He’s the guy at our baller position.”
Bryce Smith (Sr., RB/LB, 5-7, 170), Anthony Nealy (Jr., WR/DB, 5-9, 155), Tyler Staub (So., WR/DB, 5-11, 155) and Jackson Clark (So., 5-10, 170) also will be counted on to help move the ball for Union.
“Clark is a multi purpose player for us,” Robinson said. “He’s another one at the baller position at Union. He could be anywhere.
“There’s not a lot of (players), but there’s a lot of quality in them. They’re doing a lot of good things to get things done. They’re a coachable group.”
The Scotties surrendered 27.9 points a game last year.
“We’ll have the same guys on offense going on defense,” Robinson said. “Because of our numbers, there’s no mystery up here at Union. They’re playing everything.”
Aaron Gunn, a 6-4, 290-pound junior offensive and defensive lineman, is expected to anchor Union’s defensive line.
Smith will play at linebacker, Flowers, Clark and Nealy will roam the defensive secondary.
“Our guys are attentive; they’re always listening,” Robinson said. “They’re getting more than enough reps.”
Robinson noted the basics of the team’s strengths and weaknesses.
“We have talent at the skill positions,” Robinson said. “We have to work on getting the ball in people’s hands and getting in the end zone.
“Lack of depth is our big issue. We’re not very big up front; we’re an average size team. We can’t afford for anyone to go down.”
The playoffs continue to be on Robinson’s radar.
“You have to be an idealist and a realist at Union,” Robinson said. “It would be ideal to win a conference title. But you want to start by being a realist and at least shoot for a playoff spot. It’s hard in single-A because only eight teams go to the playoffs.”