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  • Writer's pictureTerry O'Neil

NJ Coaches Rave About New Contact Limits

In a Bergen Record story yesterday, New Jersey coaches raved about their first few weeks under the tightest contact limits in the history of football -- 15 minutes full contact per week in regular season, six hours total including scrimmages in pre-season.  Here's an excerpt:

Everywhere he goes, Terry O’Neil, founder of Practice Like Pros, receives the same request:  “Tell me about New Jersey.”
“One of the reasons why we wanted to go out there is to be trail blazers,” Passaic Tech Coach Matt Demarest said.  “So that people see, ‘Hey, we’re trying to do what’s best for the kids.’”
“I think this is how high school football is going to rescue itself from the current participation crisis,” O’Neil said.
The new practice rules have had a minimal impact on the game during the first month of the season, according to a dozen New Jersey coaches. Most of them say they had already curtailed the amount of "live tackling" in their own practices.  Instead, they're capitalizing on an unlimited amount of “thud” tackling, in which players can hit and wrap up but must remain on their feet.
"We tackle every day in terms of drills, we stay up, we form tackle, we wrap," said St. Joseph (Montvale) Coach Augie Hoffmann, whose Green Knights are ranked No. 1 in the USA TODAY New Jersey Top 20. "We have a tackling circuit pretty much every day for four or five minutes – not live, but thud – and just understanding the fundamentals of tackling.” Coaches had greater concern about the reduction in practice time during the preseason.  Going from “unlimited” to six total hours was dramatic, especially considering each scrimmage counts as one hour of live tackling.
“Preseason hours, with the way they counted the scrimmages, didn’t leave you with a lot of time," said Steve Dunn, a veteran coach in his first season leading Ridgefield Park.  "You had to spread it out and really pick and choose your moments when you were going to do some of the drills that everyone’s accustomed to when you’re simulating a live game.”
“We definitely had to lighten up some of the contact drills we did in the past,” said Carteret Coach Matt Yascko.  “I think our tackling did suffer a little bit in Game 1, probably because of less tackling drills, less live contact that we did in the preseason.  But overall, I think the concept, and keeping the kids as safe and healthy as possible, is a good move.”
Limiting live tackling in practice is a good way to encourage freshmen at small schools to join the team and stick with the program, said Barry Blauvelt, who coaches his alma mater, Wallington.
“Hopefully, moving forward, these freshmen kids that we have here will tell their friends, ‘Hey, listen, we’re not going up against the seniors in practice, and we’re being safe, and we’re not being thrown to the wolves so to speak,’” Blauvelt said.  “And hopefully it will increase, or at least maintain, rosters of 35 to 40 kids at the small schools.”
"Are we as good of a tackling team as we were back in the '80s and '90s when we went full speed on defense?" Ridgewood's Chuck Johnson said.  "Maybe not. But we're a hell of a lot healthier."
Here are more thoughts from New Jersey coaches.... Chuck Johnson of Ridgewood:  “I think the rule is a really good one, because I think there are a bunch of knuckleheads out there beating the [expletive] out of their kids.”
Joe Martucci of St. John Vianney:  "I was never a big proponent of driving kids to the ground.  It was always about teaching technique, get there, break it down, being in the right spot, put your head in the right spot, get your body where it belongs."
Greg Gruzdis of Waldwick-Midland Park:  “With our [low] numbers, we had kind of limited our contact last year to basically almost zero during the week on live bodies.  We made a real investment in every tackling dummy and ring – we’re tackling everything but bodies.”
Steve Dunn of Ridgefield Park:  “It’s one thing to get a kid hurt on a Friday night.  That’s unavoidable.  But if you get a kid hurt in practice tackling, that’s a tough pill to swallow.”
PJ Jankowicz of Middlesex:  “I just want my guys playing as fast and as fresh on Friday night as possible.”
Augie Hoffmann of St. Joseph (Montvale):  “If you know how to coach and know how to practice, you can get everything you want to accomplish and live within the parameters that have been set.”

To read the Bergen Record story, click here.


Atavus Acquired by Phoenix Sports Partners

Atavus, the tackling analytics and certification platform, and sponsor of Practice Like Pros, has been acquired by Phoenix Sports Partners of Chicago, a sports technology and data investment fund.  Atavus CEO Karen Bryant will remain in operational control.

"Big congratulations to Karen Bryant and her fabulous team," said Terry O'Neil.  "At Practice Like Pros, we choose our partners carefully.  Atavus is the state-of-the-art in tackling technique.  It's not only a safer tackle, it's a dominant tackle, as well."

To read the Phoenix Sports Partners announcement, click here.


Lions Roar Without Live Tackling in Practice

Newsradio WCBS, New York, last week spotlighted practice methods at Columbia University.  The Lions and their Ivy League counterparts agreed in March, 2016, to eliminate live tackling from regular-season practice.

Columbia senior LB Michael Murphy, a business and psychology major, was quoted:  "It's Columbia, it's a hard school, so you gotta be sharp in the classroom, as well.  And if you're getting concussions, it kind of messes up football, it messes up academics."

To hear the WCBS report, click here.


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