When it comes to strategies and technique, the nation’s high school football programs often copy the direction of college and professional football.
In terms of safety, though, it appears high school football programs are ahead of the curve.
The NCAA last week released recommendations its members hold no more than two contact practices per week during the season and four contact practices per week during the preseason.
Local high school football coaches already meet or exceed those safety standards.
“The majority of people in the football community want to do things the right way,” said North football coach Tim Bless. “We’re already compliant (with those standards).”
Bless said most high school coaches want to provide their players with a safe environment above all else.
“The fear is that your fundamentals will slip, but safety is our first importance,” Bless said. “Of course, this is the ultimate contact sport. That’s the fine line at every level. How much is enough?”
Bless noted teaching proper technique is a huge key with less contact.
“At times, it does look like your tackling fundamentals have slipped, but the athleticism is better than it used to be. There are more green grass tackling situations now.
“But you have to consider your risk-reward. How banged up will you be?”
There are no set rules in terms of the number of days high school football teams in Indiana can hit during the season.
Bless said the Bull Dogs go two “hard days” a week. The other practices are conducted without full pads and with the concentration on technique and strategy.
South Decatur coach Rodney Martin leads a much smaller program than Bless, but his practice routine is much the same. The Cougars have contact days on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“We limit how much we hit,” Martin said. “We don’t want to make our kids soft, but we have to protect ourselves from too much contact. We do have lower numbers, and there is a good chance that we have eight or nine kids who never will leave the field.
“But I am like any coach who thinks that if we are not tackling in practice, we might suffer in the game.”
Martin cut back on contact last year and was pleased with how his players reacted.
“We had less contact, and I felt our kids were a little more fresh,” he said. “We’re going to stick with that.”
Columbus East coach Bob Gaddis is director of the Indiana Football Coaches Association and his organization released sweeping recommendations in May that were accepted by the Indiana High School Athletic Association.
“We wanted to address heat, contact, concussions ... the whole deal,” Gaddis said. “We have restrictions on what you can do during the summer and during the season.”
Politicians have thrown their hat into the safety ring. Senate Bill 222 took effect on July 1 and stipulates that everyone who coaches a player under the age of 20 must take an approved course on concussion awareness.
Gaddis noted coaches can take a big step toward reducing the chance of injury by making sure equipment is fitted properly, by teaching proper techniques for blocking and tackling and by recognizing the signs of concussions.
East practices with very little full contact.
“We have limited contact in the preseason,” Gaddis said. “During the regular season we call it pop off or thud. You never are taking players to the ground intentionally, and you are not hitting below the waist. We didn’t have a scrimmage of live contact once last year. We don’t like to do tackling drills below the waist.
“There always will be a concern. Will you be physical enough? You hope you train them well enough.”