New guidelines on the gridiron: less tackling and fewer hits for Bay area high school football players heading back to the practice field this week.
The state is tackling a growing concern, how to keep students safe from concussions.
Football players at St. Petersburg High are gearing up for the glow of Friday night lights.
“If you decide to play the game of football, you should know the risk you're taking by stepping on that field,” says SPHS linebacker Austin Johnson.
But before game time this year, the Florida High School Athletic Association's concern about the number of hits players are taking in practice. New state rules now cut out contact drills, all-out scrimmages with tackling to the ground, the first five days of practice.
“Player safety has and will always be the number one goal of the FHSAA,” FHSAA Executive Director Dr. Roger Dearing says. “Protecting our student-athletes is paramount in growing the game of football and this administrative procedure is a step in the right direction.”
Nearly half of all sports-related concussions reported to the CDC are from high school football and one third of the brain injuries happen in practice.
“It's not the tough guy way anymore. Back in the day, when we were learning how to play it was stick your head in there, lower your head and run people over, but it's not like that anymore,” says SPHS Head Football Coach Joe Fabrizio. “We’ve really come a long way in understanding and becoming aware of what's going on with concussions. We didn't know that before. We didn't understand what was happening when you saw stars, it was a concussion. You just shook your head and went back in there.”
“Most coaches in the area have sort of backed off on collisions and putting kids to the ground.”
Next week players will be able to do the tackling-type drills in practice, but the new rules limit the amount of contact to no more than 80 minutes per week and no taking hits more than 2 days in a row.
“We usually will come up a little bit short of 80 minutes of full contact for a week. We do a lot of bag work, a lot of stay-off-the-ground work,” says Fabrizio.
“Most of the changes are to help better our safety and make sure we're OK,” says Johnson.
“I'm worried every time I drop him off,” says mother Maily Latrace. She fears the impact hits could have on her son, Hunter.
“We were trying to convince him to do something else, like basketball or soccer because of the injuries. I'm glad they're limiting how many times they can be hit and how long,” says Latrace.
Fabrizio says playing it safe is always the goal. “We are responsible for them like they’re our own kids. The last thing I want to do is hurt my own child. I don't want to hurt anyone else's child either,” says Fabrizio.
Some critics say less time tackling in practice could make inexperienced players more vulnerable during a game.
“Some people may complain that we might not get as much done in the timeframe, but I feel like as long as you push yourself and make sure you get your reps in, you'll be able to get everything done,” Johnson says.
FHSAA is also requiring coaches to file written practice plans in compliance with the new rules and make copies available.
“The game of football will always come with some inherent risk, but we will never stop working to try and make one of the greatest team sports on earth safer,” FHSAA Football Administrator Frank Beasley said. “We will continue our efforts to educate and teach coaches on the Drive to December about how to run effective practices while using the limited-contact procedures.”
Previous coverage of the concussion issue: