Since the start of high school football practice on Aug. 3, the predominant sounds on the field are the voices of the players and coaches with nothing to drown them out.
That changes this week, as teams around the state are allowed to introduce pads to their practices and get into full contact, except with a different sound to it.
Football’s player safety craze, especially revolving around concussions, has changed the soundtrack to this event, as football programs at all levels around the nation have decreased the amount of contact in their practices.
“I’m not planning on doing a lot of tackling to the ground hardly at all this (camp),” said Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze according to Riley Blevins of The Clarion-Ledger.
“We’ve come up with a ton of tackling drills that we use every day that doesn’t pose a risk too much to our young men. We’ll do a lot of that.”
Local high school football coaches have seen the trend and some of them are following suit, also taking steps to prepare their players for both the technique and violence in tackling while keeping their teams healthy.
“We’ve really started cutting back and keeping them off the ground,” Mangham coach Tommy Tharp said. “The other side of that is we still have to practice tackling.”
Wossman coach Dean Smith added, “We do a wrap-up and work on the technique, but don’t go to the ground per say.”
Smith’s move to less to-the-ground tackling is one of many ways in which local coaches are keeping their players prepared to tackle while maintaining their health both for the regular season and for the rest of their lives.
“We slow it down and break it down three times a week,” Tharp said. “We have a one-man tackling sled that allows you to get violent and obviously the sled doesn’t hit back.”
Not all local coaches have taken that stance. Ouachita Christian coach Steven Fitzhugh believes teaching the technique of tackling and practicing it fully is the answer.
“The fundamentals of blocking and tackling, we believe you have to practice that to get better at it,” Fitzhugh said. “They have pads on and the best of equipment.
“We spend a lot of time on teaching technique. We do. We spent 20 minutes tackling out of our 50 minutes of defense (Wednesday) morning. That’s 40 percent of time was spent on tackling. We’re going to give a lot of repetitions for fundamental tackling and make sure we’re doing it safely.”
Tharp, one of the coaches that airs on the side of caution, cites the current environment of player ability as a contributing factor for his opinion.
“When I played, players were not as big, fast and strong as they are now,” he said. “When they run into each other, it’s a heck of a collision.”
Smith added he and his players look at how practices are conducted in the NFL: Smith sees them go full-speed and work on their tackling technique without injuring one another as an example to follow.
While local coaches are still being given the option to decide how often they use full contact in their practices, in other states that isn’t the case. In the last two years, states such as Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Oklahoma and Texas have passed new bylaws, modified existing ones or even passed state law, in Texas’ case, that limit contact in practice.
Local opinions vary on that subject, as well. Smith would be in favor of the LHSAA pursuing such a bylaw.
“When it comes to safety of the kids and the game, I’m all for it,” Smith said. “Anything that’s for the safety of the game, I’m, all for it.”
Tharp disagrees, and punched multiple holes in the potential.
“I don’t like being told how to best prepare my team to perform from a desk in Baton Rouge,” he said.
LHSAA executive director Eddie Bonine told The News-Star that the idea behind the bylaws has merit, but he has yet to have the conversations around the state to gather opinions on the matter.
Bonine added Nevada, where he was before accepting the executive director position in Louisiana, does not have a limit but that he has had conversations about the matter with California and may talk to Alabama at some point. Bonine also pointed out the new head of the Louisiana High School Coaches Association, Donaldsonville’s Jay Dykes, is a football coach and hopes to discuss the issue with him and have Dykes initiate that conversation around the state before making any moves.
One of Tharp’s objections to the idea of the rule is how the sport would go about uniform enforcement of said rule.
“We’re in Mangham, Louisiana. We’re in a rural place and I don’t know how many people are going to come by with stopwatch to see how long we’re out there,” he said.
Follow Brett on Twitter, @BHudsonTNS.