The Alabama High School Athletic Association has produced a new set of guidelines for football practice that opened across the state on Monday, although none of the rules seem to cause any concern for area coaches.
The “AHSAA Recommendations for Full Contact Football Practices” are posted on the organization’s website, but they deal with full-team, 11-on-11 workouts that aren’t common occurrences in preseason or regular season workouts.
“The practice guidelines set forth by the Alabama High School Athletic Association are very realistic,” St. James coach Jimmy Perry said. “Those are really outer limits they’ve set, and most coaches don’t come anywhere near that as far as 11-on-11 scrimmages. Most coaches are probably 11-on-11 15 minutes a day. In the preseason, you’ll hit (in full team workouts) five times, and that’s nowhere close to two hours. And during the season, you’re 11-on-11 work is probably limited to two days of live work because all of your live work during the season is really on Friday night.”
AHSAA bylaws don’t limit the amount of full-contact practice, although that is likely to change in the near future, and the published recommendations make no mention of limitations of full contact involving groups of less than 11-on-11. Because most high schools practice their linemen separately from their skill players, the recommendations rarely come into play.
The guidelines also note that a team may participate in practices involving bag drills or thudding (not taking a player to the ground) at any point.
“The whole purpose of it is for the safety and well-being of the student-athlete,” Prattville Christian coach Sam Peak said. “Ninety-nine percent of the coaches have the same philosophy, but it’s that 1 percent that may not have — I didn’t say didn’t, I said may not have — that same (philosophy) and it’s a guideline.”
AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese echoed what Peak said, maintaining that the primary focus of the guidelines is to provide instruction for new head coaches.
“It’s basically for inexperienced coaches who might be coaching for the first time, to provide some type of guidance as it relates to contact work or 11-on-11 scrimmages,” Savarese said. “It’s really just a safety guideline to protect our student-athletes.”
Safety rules in football have increased in recent years, with the NFL taking a stance against hits against defenseless players, a move that has trickled down to the college ranks this year with new penalties for targeting.
“If we look at the top end of it at the NFL, we’ve seen the adjustments and changes they’ve made and it’s come down to the colleges,” Trinity coach Randy Ragsdale said. “The national high school federation and the bodies that do that in the different states, particularly in our state with the (Alabama) High School Athletic Association, those guidelines come to us. For us, at Trinity School, we have tried to already be at those guidelines with what we’re trying to do with our young men.
“I think the one adjustment that was different is we’ve usually had three prepractice days. This year, we get two. So I guess if there’s been one adjustment, it’s been getting into pads one day earlier.”
The new guidelines include week-by-week recommendations that include the use of helmets and shorts in the first two days of practice before adding shoulder pads for the third practice. Most of the programs in central Alabama were going out in shorts and helmets for the first three days, forcing a change for Wednesday’s session.
“The biggest thing was going from shorts and helmets to shorts and shoulder pads and helmets,” Prattville coach Chad Anderson said. “They’re limiting us to an hour and a half (of full contact in the first week). That’s the biggest change with what we do. We’re going to take certain precautions in the heat as far as watering and breaks, but (the players) have been working in it all summer long, so that’s not a big, big issue.”
While there’s often a concern any time new guidelines are established, the ones posted on the AHSAA website don’t appear to be new after all.
“Those guidelines are fine,” Perry said. “It really just protects kids from coaches who go to the other extreme. That’s not going to affect us at all. Those guidelines were set forth by people who have been in the game, been in the business and know what it takes to get a team ready to go on the field. And they’re well within the normal parameters of normal practice time and scrimmage times, as far as full contact goes.”