LaFleur Column: Contact has its place high school football practices

By 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