Ever since the inaugural American Family Insurance ALL-USA was named 30 years ago, a lot has changed in high school football. Players are bigger. Gear is lighter. Players are more specialized. In “Things Done Changed,” we’ll look at how the game has evolved.
When the first American Family Insurance ALL-USA football team was selected in 1982, one of the starting defensive linemen was Alonzo Highsmith of Columbus (Miami, Fla.), who weighed only 210 pounds.
Thirty years later, the lightest defensive linemen on the 2012 ALL-USA team were Robert Nkemdiche of Grayson (Loganville, Ga.) and Henry Poggi of Gilman (Baltimore) at 260 pounds.
If there’s one change that stands out besides hairstyles when you compare the ALL-USA teams from then to now is how much bigger the players are.
“It’s the evolution of the game,” said Highsmith, a senior personnel executive with the Green Bay Packers who was a running back for six seasons in the NFL. “The advance in weight training is the big reason for the players being bigger. I didn’t see a real weight room until college.”
The difference in ALL-USA players is most pronounced on the offensive and defensive lines, where players are a little bit taller and a lot heavier. The average ALL-USA offensive lineman in 1982 was 6-5 and 252 pounds. This year’s offensive line average was 6-6 and 292 pounds. The typical ALL-USA defensive lineman in 1982 was 6-3 and 235 pounds. Today, the ALL-USA defensive line players top out at 6-3 and 275 pounds.
Louisville (Trinity) coach Bob Beatty said the bigger players are more athletic than the behemoths of old and the faster players are bigger than they used to be.
“You’ve taken the player on the line who was 6-3, 275 and fat and is now 6-3, 285 with plenty of muscle and can run as fast as the linebackers,” he said. “Kids who used to be safeties now are linebackers.”
CBS College Sports recruiting analyst Tom Lemming agrees that better training has allowed for bigger and better athletes.
“I remember 34-35 years ago, you would see a 6-5, 300-pounders and 95 percent of them had trouble moving their feet,” Lemming said. “Now, the same 6-5, 300-pounder is able to slide outside to make a tackle or block.”
Two positions that haven’t changed much are running backs and defensive back, where lateral quickness and speed are still a priority.
“At those positions, it still comes down to vision, explosiveness and instincts,” Lemming said.
Follow Jim Halley on Twitter @jimhalley.