High school football players will be allowed to don shoulder pads a week earlier than expected this fall.
The TSSAA’s Board of Control unanimously approved an addition to its existing sports calendar that mandates that football players must practice a minimum of three days in helmets and shoulder pads prior to practicing in full pads during the week of Aug. 1.
The measure, which was approved Wednesday during the board’s June meetings, was made to allow athletes to get acclimated to the high heat before full pads.
TSSAA assistant executive director Richard McWhirter spoke at two coaching clinics about the change prior to the vote. He said the response he received was good.
“Coaches were real receptive at the two clinics I did,” McWhirter said. “I probably had between 75 to 100 schools attend the clinics I did. It’s going to prepare that athlete (for the heat).”
Helmets and shoulder pads may be worn beginning July 22 this season. Teams can begin practice in full pads beginning July 29. Under the rule, players must have those three days in helmets and shoulder pads before they participate in either practice in full pads or a game.
“The thing that is going to hit them, that you don’t think about is you assume all of your players are going to be there the first three days of practice,” McWhirter said. “What about that one kid that transfers late? They have to understand they have to do those three days.”
Currently, football teams can only hold conditioning until the TSSAA mandated dead period, which begins June 23. After the TSSAA-mandated dead period ends July 6, teams can practice in helmets up to 15 days, 10 of which can be with other schools, until July 29. Now, shoulder pads may be worn that final week.
Shoulder pads will not be permitted to be worn during practice with other schools.
Oakland football coach Thomas McDaniel said the rule is an appropriate one for the state.
“I think it makes complete sense how proactive the TSSAA and the state is considering the new heat index rules,” McDaniel said. “With the time crunch we have with true practice in pads before Week 0, there is not a huge amount of time to get kids acclimated.
“It gives them a couple of days. It will help us get in better shape. You have one week to put in three days. You can get them used to wearing them, then you go into camp week.”
However, all coaches aren’t excited about the change.
Blackman coach Philip Shadowens said he was more in favor of pushing back the start of the prep football season.
“It’s another way to practice an extra week of football,” Shadowens said. “If they keep finding ways to shorter then summer kids won’t have any time off. I think it’s a bad idea. I’m for moving the season and the schedule back. That allows time for kids to be kids.”