By Doug Gorman
Iron-man football, players lining up on both offense and defense, often without rest, used to be as common as cheerleaders and marching bands.
As the pro and college games evolved into a two-platoon system, playing on both sides of the ball quickly became a thing of the past.
Sure, top-notch athletes still occasionally play both offense and defense in college and the pros, but when it happens, it's usually a novelty.
But at the high school level, iron man football is alive and well. In fact, it's not just a way for a high school coach to keep his best players on the field, it's the only way some teams with limited numbers can field a team.
"We don't have a choice," said Eagle's Landing Christian Academy coach Tim Luke. "Everybody on our roster plays and practices on both offense and defense."
ELCA just moved to the Georgia High School Association after years as a member of the Georgia Independent School Association.
With fewer than 40 players on the Class A football team, some athletes never leave the field for the Chargers.
In the Chargers' season-opening victory against Athens Christian last Friday, six players started on both sides of the ball for ELCA. Several others also played on offense and defense.
Last week, ELCA had more players than Athens Christian, something the Chargers might not experience too many times this season.
"They only had about 28 players so it was our plan to try to wear them down by the fourth quarter," Luke said.
At schools such as ELCA, staying in shape becomes crucial.
"Conditioning is a part of what we do even during the season," said Luke.
Even at schools in larger classifications, coaches don't have the luxury of two-platooning their players.
Mt. Zion head coach Jackie Green has been playing his best players on both sides of the ball for more than a decade.
Even with all of Mt. Zion's success, including region titles, and a trip to the state title game in 1999, Green's teams have never had too much depth.
"The key is early in the year," said Green. "If you can get two games under your belt and they (players who play on both offense and defense) get in game shape, usually they are going to be fine."
To avoid cramps that often come from playing on both sides of the line of scrimmage, especially early in the season, Mt. Zion players who play on both sides of the ball drink Gatorade during the game, while other players are replenished with water.
The Gatorade worked last week for the Bulldogs as they opened the season with an upset victory against Lovejoy.
For players thrown into two-way duty, one of the biggest challenges comes in staying focused and fresh.
"You have to have endurance, you have to get your lungs strong, and you have to work hard in practice just to be ready," said Mt. Zion's Keyon Montgomery, who plays wide receiver on offense and corner back on defense. "I train in the off-season and I play other sports, so I stay in shape."
Jamaal Clark, who is also a starter on offense and defense at Mt. Zion, said it's easy to get distracted when you play on both sides of the ball.
"When you come out there you are thinking about the crowd, and the ladies, the females, but you have to go out there and play hard on both sides of the ball when you have a game to play," Clark said.
Sometimes coaches use their best players on both offense and defense out of necessity.
"One year we made a real effort to two-platoon, but we found out we weren't as successful as we wanted, so we have sort of gone back to playing some players on both sides of the ball," said Eagle's Landing head coach Bob Stinchcomb.
Coaches also face challenges when it comes to coaching players who seldom leave the game.
"When a player is always out on the field, you can't make adjustments. You have to do it at halftime, and then you only have 15 minutes to cover offense, defense and special teams," said Luke.
Playing on both sides of the ball gives some athletes a chance to showcase their skills for college recruiters.
"Sometimes a player might be a high school wide receiver, but better suited to play defensive back in college, if he can show recruiters he can play there too, he helps his chances," said Stinchcomb.
First-year Union Grove coach Mike McDonald has a simple philosophy when it comes to using players on both sides of the ball. It's one most high school coaches would agree with too.
"We are going to put the best kids on the field, and if they play both ways, they play both ways," McDonald said.