Illinois Squad Goes 5-1, One Injury
Coach Jeff Vlk has added another episode to his remarkable adventure at Buffalo Grove (IL) High School in suburban Chicago. Buffalo Grove's talented 2017 and 2018 teams both qualified for Class 7A state playoffs, but were sabotaged by a staggering list of injuries. Over two seasons, the Bison sustained:
4 ACL tears,
3 shoulder labrum tears,
fractures of the shoulder, hip, kneecap and ankle.
Vlk said, "The injuries were so depressing, we knew we had to do something. I was very torn on this at first, because the old-school football coach in me says we need to hit, hit, hit. But the science behind it says different."
So he turned to the Practice Like Pros model, drastically reducing contact.
Vlk was unsure how his players would react to a 2019 pre-season heavy on weight training, conditioning and technique drills rather than contact. But on the eve of the opener, one of his linemen said to him, "Coach, I feel so ready to play. My neck doesn't hurt, my shoulders don't hurt."
The 2019 squad's injury tally for the entire season, both practice and games, was one concussion (suffered in a game), one sprained ankle, one sprained knee and one bruised shoulder.
When Vlk and PLP founder TerryO'Neil met in February, 2020, at the Chicago/Glazier Clinic, Vlk asked what he could do to spread the message. O'Neil immediately invited him to share the stage six weeks hence at a PLP presentation to the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association (IHSFCA) Clinic in Champaign. That event was cancelled by the pandemic and the fall, 2020, Illinois high school season was postponed to the current spring.
Fast-forward to last week, Friday night. The Bison defeated Palatine High to finish the season with a 5-1 record, averaging 30-plus points per game. Their injury total for the entire spring, both practice and games: One pulled hamstring.
Vlk's philosophy in his own words:
"We do not do ANY full contact during the season. I never want our guys to be tackled by a teammate. Our defenders focus on aiming points and tap the ball carrier's back hip."
"We wear shoulder pads once a week -- Wednesday, 'contact day' -- to protect ourselves from ourselves, but we never take anyone to the ground. The shoulder pads allow our linemen to work hand placement and technique at faster speed (thud tempo)."
"We tackle bags and onto crash pads, trying to mimic the Seattle Seahawks' rugby-style tackling."
"We were met with some resistance at first from players and parents. Last season, however, everyone started to see the benefit. Our parents have been incredibly grateful, even some of the 'old school' parents."
"We have not lost a player to a practice injury in two years. I am sold on this philosophy!"