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  • Writer's pictureTerry O'Neil

High School Squads Practicing Like Pros

The season is underway and, increasingly, all across the country, high school teams are practicing like pros.  From Illinois to Michigan to Ohio to Pennsylvania to New Jersey,here's a sample:

From The Washington Post...

Ramapo didn’t tackle to the ground at all during practices last season.

“What I think has happened, in pro football, in college football and in high school football, is this is for us to have a safer game,” said Archie Manning, the former NFL quarterback and father of two more who now serves as the National Football Foundation’s chairman. “You get a group of high school coaches together … [and] it’s really just hard for them to object to it. They want what’s best for their kids. They want what’s best for the game. It’s going to help the game...”

The 57-year-old Drew Gibbs, who has coached 18 years at Ramapo, was a catalyst for the move. Members of the New Jersey Football Coaches Association gathered in the defensive linemen room at Rutgers' football facility in December, arguing the merits of the proposed change and whether the new limit should be 15 or 30 minutes. Gibbs, who just two weeks earlier had led Ramapo to a 13-0 record — the first in state history — cut through the commotion.

“We didn’t tackle players to the ground once in practice all last season,” he said as he stood before the men. “It worked out pretty well for us.”

Ramapo had only two players suffer concussions last season, according to Gibbs. He considered that as much of a success as the 13 wins.

It’s part of Gibbs’s plan to get the most out of his players during games.

“If you don’t feed the dog all week,” Gibbs said, “he’s hungry on Friday nights.”

To read The Washington Post story, click here.


From The Daily Herald (suburban Chicago)...

By now, with a summer of preseason football practices under his belt, Tommy Dierbach'sneck would already ache. His back would hurt, too.

"I got to the point last year that my back hurt so bad that I couldn't get up after making a play. I'd have to have my teammates help me up," said Dierbach, a junior linebacker atBuffalo Grove.  "This year, I feel fresh.  I've been playing football my whole life, and this is a really different way of doing things."

At Buffalo Grove, football suddenly involves a lot less hitting. Almost none, in fact. At least in practice.

"I was very torn at first because the old-school football coach in me says that we need to hit, hit, hit," Buffalo Grove coach Jeff Vlk said. "But the science behind it says different."

"Last year at this time, we had already lost three or four guys, and a lot of guys were going into our first game all sore and not feeling good," senior defensive end Michael Goubinesaid. "I know that last year at this time, my body was just dead. I was sore and hurting all over. This year, I feel so much better.  And this has done amazing things for our team. Our team has become so much better because of it."

To read The Daily Herald story, click here.


From Main Line Today (Philadelphia)...

Archbishop Carroll Coach Kyle Detweiler says, “Football is a collision sport, but we have to be careful how much hitting we do and how we approach practice so it’s as safe as possible.  We go live a little during camp, but we won’t go to the ground during regular-season practices.”

Coach Mike Murphy of the Haverford School estimates that his team may have about 10 minutes a week of live plays, and that’s usually to replicate goal-line situations. 

Garnet Valley High School Coach Mike Ricci says his team engages in no live work at all during the season.  “We haven’t taken guys to the ground for several years,” says Ricci,who has directed the Jaguars since 1986.  “I don’t think it’s necessary.”

At Radnor High School, Head Coach Tom Ryan has about 10 plays of live action during practice each week, and he notes the fine line between preparing his team for Friday night and losing players to injury. 

Cardinal O’Hara High School’s B.J. Hogan puts his players through no live work once the season starts.  “There’s no need in practice for a player to clock a ball carrier and then roll up into a defensive lineman and lose him to injury,” the coach says.

No one interviewed has noticed a drop in the quality of play due to less hitting during training.  All feel that those who want to tackle in games will still complete the job when it matters.

To read the Main Line Today story, click here.


From The Columbus Dispatch...

Watterson High third-year coach Brian Kennedy said, "The game is all about execution now, and practices are more focused on routes, run-throughs and schemes with various position coaches (rather) than going out and hitting each other for five hours straight,” he said. “We’re even teaching rugby tackling methods now, like Ohio State does.”

To read The Columbus Dispatch story, click here.


From WBKB-TV (Alpena, MI)...

“If we don't make these changes now, we're going to lose a game that is very dear to our hearts," said Coach Tommy Atkinson of Whittemore-Prescott High School.  "I’m in favor of anything to make it so my children have the chance to play football.”

To watch the WBKB-TV story, click here.


Florida State Also Practicing Like Pros

Final word goes to Florida State Coach Willie Taggart.  At one of his training camp news conferences last month in Tallahasse, he told media, "You've got to hold them back because they really want to get after it.  We've got to teach our guys to stay off the ground and practice like pros."

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