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  • Writer's pictureTerry O'Neil

Florida State Champions Practicing Like Pros

Patrick Surtain, New Orleans native, was a second-round NFL draft pick out of Southern Mississippi.  He played top-quality cornerback for the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs, chosen three times to the Pro Bowl and once All-Pro.

Now 42, Surtain has just begun his third season as head coach of American Heritage School in Plantation, FL.  His won/loss record is 28-1.  His Patriots went unbeaten in 2016 and 2017, winning Florida's highly competitive 5A State Championship both years.  And Surtain is achieving this success by practicing exactly as he did during his 11 years in the NFL.  He told Miami's WSVN-TV last week:

"The (research) studies don't lie.  My whole model is stand up in practice.  Learn how to practice.  We don't take anybody to the ground.  I know a lot of concussions are caused by helmet-to-helmet contact, but a lot of them are caused by the head hitting the turf."

Change is Happening

Head Coach Daniel Barrow of West Carteret High, Morehead City, NC, announced this week the previously unthinkable for high school football:  "Our varsity team will see zero minutes of live hitting practice this season."

That's right, another high school coach has joined the model established by the Ivy League and Canadian Football League (CFL) -- no tackling, no full contact in regular season.  Other notable high school programs that have also joined the movement are Miami (FL) Palmetto High, Fort Worth (TX) Country Day, Yorktown High inArlington, VA, and Pelham Memorial in Pelham, NY.

Coach Barrow said, "This is not what I'm accustomed to.  I was a defensive coordinator by trade (for nine seasons) before I became a head coach.  I've always believed you have to be able to hit someone in practice to be able to do it in the game.  It took a lot of research and a lot of conversations with other coaches to reach this point."

West Carteret is 2-1 in the young season after struggling last year with a rash of injuries to starters.  Players love the new regimen because, as Barrow noted, "I think they realize how they felt at this point last season.  We were banged up with so much of the season left in front of us.  We were constantly banging in every practice on every single play.  There might be 100 plays in a practice.  By Wednesday, you're worn down, and by Friday you're dragging yourself around.

"Without practice contact this year, our technique has gotten so much better.  Without pads, it's all on display.  This format forces them to use better technique than when they have pads on.  It keeps them healthier throughout the year, and it also makes them more hungry for contact on Friday night.  I'm having to rein them in at practice.  They're always ready to hit, they always want to amp it up.  I love that intensity, but you can still have intensity in practice without body-to-body hitting.  So when they get to Friday, they're ready to cut loose.

"All coaches need to be able to adjust and be open-minded.  We need to adapt.  I'm so thankful all these changes are coming about.  I think it's going to save our game.  From Pop Warner to the pros, it's up to all of us coaches to save football."

Julius Thomas Seizes the Future

Julius Thomas, twice a Pro Bowl tight end in a seven-year career with the Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins, retired last week to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology.  Thomas wrote in The Players Tribune that he'll focus his studies on "investigating the effect of contact sports on brain trauma and neuro-behavioral performance."

Regarding the future of football, he said, "I'm very optimistic about the game.  It's America's favorite game right now, and I think it'll be that way in 10-to-15 years. I think the game will look a little bit different.  If you ask me, I would probably predict that the practice habits would change.  I think you'll start to see more extended time outside of helmets, as opposed to training camp where you're going six days a week and you're constantly having those collisions."   

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