New Canaan (CT) High School Friday evening played its intra-squad spring game in "thud" format -- full pads, full speed, thud finish instead of tackling, nobody taken to the ground. While several Division 1 college teams have played their spring games in thud format, this is believed to be a first for high school football.
New Canaan Coach Lou Marinelli, most successful high school coach in Connecticut history with 340 career wins and 12 state championships, made the decision after attending three Practice Like Prosclinics in the past eight weeks. The PLP presentation features Ohio State, Rutgers and Dartmouth all playing their spring games in thud format. It also includes this statistic: The majority of football injuries and 80% of catastrophic injuries involve the act of tackling or being tackled.
Said Marinelli, "I'm an old-school coach. I've been coaching 45 years. It was hard for me to change. When I first saw the Practice Like Pros presentation, I said, 'Well, we practice a lot like that anyway.' But I've never gone full-bore with limited contact. This is the first spring. I thought it was fantastic. This is how we're going to do it forever because we didn't have any injuries. Now we're ready to go into summer weightlifting and conditioning. In the past, we've had kids break ankles, tear ACLs in spring and lost them for the season.
"We'll be doing it this way in regular season too, practicing like pros. You want to have your guys ready for the games. You want to keep 'em healthy. If they're on the sidelines because they got hurt in practice, it's such a waste. You've got to work on technique and work on it hard, but there are so many things you can do without taking players to the ground. Especially in the kicking game, where so many kids get hurt, in this format they can run down under kicks, you can practice kick returns full speed and look at it on film. You don't have to worry about those running backs, who are sometimes your better kids, getting hurt. It's great with special teams, offense, defense. It's been tremendous."
Other post-game comments:
OT Jack Stewart, 6-5, 280, committed to U. of Michigan: "You know what, I actually got excited when I heard about the format. It's different, something we've never done before. I heard about it when I was visiting colleges. When I went to TCU, my host said, 'Guess how many times a week we hit.' I said, 'I don't know, maybe three?' He said, 'Once, only Mondays.' So I know the colleges are doing it and I know the pros are doing it. With proper training and technique, I definitely think it can work in high school."
WR/KR Quintin O'Connell, committed to U. of North Carolina on a lacrosse scholarship: "Speaking for myself, I was fired up when I heard the format because it gave me an opportunity to play. Coming off lacrosse season, I've only been with the football team a week and two days. I wouldn't have been allowed to play a full-contact game. But this was a great opportunity for me and the other lacrosse guys and the baseball guys to play."
Athletic Trainer Eric Faatz: "It's a great idea. It eliminates a lot of acute injuries like concussions. I was only on the field once tonight, and that was for a minor injury. It's going to take a little bit of time, but definitely this format could take over high school football. I'm behind it 1000%."
PLP founder Terry O'Neil: "This is how change happens. The highly respected coach of a championship program embraces a new concept. And soon enough, others take notice."
Click here to watch three plays of New Canaan's first-ever high school thud game.