Ban football? You can’t do that. Cue the hot takes! I need grizzled (old football coaches always have to be ‘grizzled’) football coaches talking about the VALUE of the game, the LESSONS that it provides, how it’s an integral part of AMERICA.
The truth is the bill put forth by Assemblywoman Valerie Vaineri Huttle (D-Bergen) to ban tackle football in New Jersey for kids under the age of 12 has some support among the North Jersey high school football coaching fraternity. It is likely it will never go anywhere more than a sheet of paper, but it demonstrates that the gatekeepers of the game, the ones who have devoted much of their lives to it, know there are issues connected to the sport.
And that’s why they’ve been working for years to solve them.
“I have a strong belief that the game of football is safer than it has ever been,” Mendham High School football coach Brett Ressler said. “This bill is geared toward youth football, but even at the youth level, you are seeing greater physical literacy and rec programs that have coaches who are invested in learning the sport and teaching it in a way that promotes player safety.”
How football practice has changed
St. Peter’s Prep coach Rich Hansen looks back on some of the practices and drills that he employed years ago and just laughs. He mentions the only time that kids weren’t in full pads was basically warming up before a game.
Where Marauder practices used to be over three hours, Hansen said. Now they check in at two. There are over 20 different practice periods with built-in rest breaks. Water? Sure. It’s encouraged.
Full contact drills, drive-the-player-to-the-ground? Dude, that’s so 1992.
“A lot of people don’t know that,” Hansen said Friday morning. “People think you go to football practice and hit, hit and hit, at least some parents from the outside might think that. I don’t think we do a good enough job of educating people on exactly what we do.”
At the various football clinics I’ve been invited too over the years, safety is always a main topic. Coaches are being taught different ways to teach tackling, the ‘rugby tackle’ or ‘Seahawks tackling style’ where a defensive player hits and rolls to bring a ball carrier down are the preferred method that has seeped into the game.
But it’s hard to undo years and years of highlight video hits and stories about concussions from football destroying lives.
“People correlate the NFL to high school football and there’s just not any relation,” Pascack Hills coach Brooks Alexander said. “The number of people suffering life-changing effects playing football usually played in the National Football League, or at the collegiate level. There’s a distinct difference. High school gets painted with the same brush, but you miss out on so many great things.”