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American Press high school sports reporter Troy LaFleur.<br>

American Press high school sports reporter Troy LaFleur.

LaFleur Column: Contact has its place high school football practices

Last Modified: Thursday, October 24, 2013 9:30 AM

By Troy LaFleur / American Press

There was a time, not long ago, when going to football practice meant that you needed to brace yourself for a long, physical day that would likely result in a few bumps and bruises.

If you were lucky to walk away from practice without having undergone much contact, it was either more of a walkthrough or you were probably hurt.

Those days are long gone.

Instead of delving into the world of X’s and O’s and bore you with my opinion about what type of football is best to watch, I will simply tell you this: the game of football has changed. Whether you like it or not, days of grinding out games with a powerful rushing attack are disappearing. Go to any high school football game and you will be hard-pressed to find a formation that utilizes fewer than three wide receivers.

Teams that still prefer the ground game are being forced to insert passing options into their offensive schemes, and they are slowly but surely making the transition to new football.

And I have no problem with that.

Things change. The game will change. It has to in order to maintain its dominance as America’s favorite sport.

But not everything needs to change.

Some teams are starting to throw the ball 30, sometimes 40 times per game. Naturally, if you are coaching one of these teams, you will focus primarily on your passing attack in practice, but just because you are passing the ball doesn’t mean your players aren’t going to be involved in a lot of contact.

The New England Patriots made headlines in September when the media revealed that in one week they made absolutely no contact at practice whatsoever, and in other weeks they limit contact to very small amounts. This trend has descended to the NCAA and now to the high school level.

A scan of high school football practices will show you that more teams are beginning to follow suit into what may be considered the “untoughening” of football.

Not all teams are doing this. In fact most of them are just undergoing a process that will eventually eliminate contact at practice, but it is happening nonetheless.

News flash: No matter how much you try to mimic your offense from them, you are not the New England Patriots.

Julian Edelman, Stevan Ridley and Tom Brady get paid to play football for a reason. They have been doing it their entire lives, they know the ins and outs of the game and, more importantly, they know how to protect themselves in a real game situation.

Teenagers, no matter how good they may be, haven’t been playing football for more than 20 years; they will eventually make a mistake and hurt themselves or another player because they aren’t using the right technique. The best way to ensure that they know that technique is to practice it every week.

Yes, a team may pass the ball 75 percent of the time, but at some point the offensive linemen are going to have to put their hands in the dirt, fire off the ball and engage a bigger foe in the ultimate test of physicality. Sorry, but mirror drills are not going to get them ready for that.

It may not look like it from the stands, but there is a lot more that goes into run blocking than just barrelling off the line into the opponent and seeing who lands on top. Every movement, every step is coordinated, not just to execute the block properly, but to also keep the player safe.

The same goes for tackling. There is a good reason that the NFL and NCAA are trying to make the game safer with rules about how defenders can bring down opponents. While I don’t agree with some of the rule changes (let’s save that for another day) the rules are made with good intentions.

Practice makes perfect. While coaches are constantly drilling passing routes and reads into their players’ heads, they should throw in some tackling and full-contact blocking drills as well. Heck, seeing a gold old-fashioned Oklahoma drill would make my day.

One may argue that all of these tackling and blocking techniques can just as easily be installed in spring training and August camp. That is a good point, but the only way to make sure that your form is going to stay perfect is to practice it every single week. And I’m not saying that it should be every day.

I understand that some practice days, particularly Mondays, are tougher than others and there will be more contact. But one full-contact, high-tempo practice per week would do wonders.

I remember less than a decade ago when practices lasted more than three hours and no drill went without at least a small bit of contact. That was just during the school year, August camp would feature two 4-hour sessions of constant hitting.

I recently heard a story in a press box from a gentleman who remembered practicing every day until after the sun had set, and parents would have to come up to the school and tell the coach that it was time for their children to come home. He said most of those grueling practices were spent running certain plays over and over and over at full speed until they had it perfected.

Another argument may be that practicing full contact at a high tempo puts players in jeopardy of being injured before game time.

That is a good point, but I would prefer a player getting slightly banged up in practice as opposed to getting seriously injured in a game.

Slack off slightly as the week progresses and you will have less likelihood of a player being injured in practice, but don’t cut out the contact all together.

Plain and simple: football is a contact sport. If you don’t drill the proper techniques of making contact into a player’s head, mistakes will be made and bad things are going to happen.

Aside from the risk of potential injuries, allowing high school athletes to have a practice that consists mostly of running and not making actual physical contact isn’t going to teach them how the game is properly played. Eventually you are going to run into a bigger, faster and stronger athlete who hits and gets hit everyday, and he will make you wish you had prepared for him.

• • •

Troy LaFleur covers high school athletics. Email him at tlafleur@americanpress.com

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