GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — The John Paul II Catholic High School football program will play a full slate of 11-man games starting in 2023, the school announced Tuesday.

The Saints have an overall record of 20-12 since starting football in 2019. After going 2-6 in their inaugural season, they’ve gone 18-6, including two trips to the NCISAA 8-man Division II state championship game. Even though the Saints have played in an eight-man league, they have played seven 11-man games between the 2021 & 2022 seasons, going 5-2 and starting this season 3-0. 

Prior to starting the John Paul II football program, both eight-man and 11-man options were explored. After looking at the amount of travel involved with potential 11-man opponents at the time, and knowing that the team had 23 players, administrators made the decision to play eight-man football.

“Sometimes you have to walk before you can run, and I think that’s what the eight-man game has allowed us to do,” said Sean Murphy, the school’s head football coach and athletic director. The school now has 230 students, and the football roster has doubled to 46 players. 

“Before I came to JPII, I had never coached eight-man football,” Murphy said. “It was a new challenge for me personally to start a program from scratch in a different format. It’s a great game, but unfortunately there are some who have the perception that eight-man players are not recruited for the next level which is simply not true. Including this year’s senior class, we will have graduated a total of 20 players and several of them have been recruited and are playing or will play in college.”

The Saints will wait until 2025 to join an 11-man league. They will play as an independent in 2023 and 2024 and be eligible for postseason play. In 2025, JPII will move to the Big East Conference for football only; that league consists of Grace Christian, Harrells Christian, North Raleigh Christian, Ravenscroft, Trinity Christian, and Wake Christian.