MIDLOTHIAN -- Rejoice, gridiron fans! High school football is back--at practice, anyway, as teams started official on-field work on Monday.
"Best first day I've ever had," said Midlothian Heritage senior defensive tackle Jon Sanders. "Usually come out here sleepy and stuff but today was a lot of energy, lot of flying around. Just happy to be back. [It was a] long summer."
Training camp is a time to go back over the basics of the game, but one area will have some new basics being taught: tackling.
In an effort to make the game safer and avoid concussions, the UIL this past spring made Texas the first state to require all high school football coaches pass a tackling certification course, provided by Seattle-based Atavus. The company began as a rugby-focused endeavor and uses the same basics of tackling in that sport in its football program, which has several high-profile clients including the Seattle Seahawks and Ohio State University.
Basically, the technique encourages a tackler to put his head behind the ball-carrier instead of in front, using his lead arm and shoulder to drive the player to the ground instead of using his head as leverage. Think about it: rugby players don't wear helmets and pads so there's a great incentive for them to avoid head contact when making tackles (it's also against the rules to use their heads), so it only makes sense to teach football players the same method with the ever-increasing awareness and concern about head injuries.
"We'll be mimicking that information that we got," says Midlothian Heritage head coach Justin Blackwell, who thought the course was helpful. He adds that his team, like many others, employs a lengthy list of precautions to try to prevent concussions.
"We check air [levels in the helmets] daily. We make sure their helmets are tight. We don't let them cut their mouthpieces [shorter], so they're all the way back to their jaws. They do a concussion test, a baseline test, on a computer when they're healthy, and so if they suspect some type of injury they'll go back and take that test and it will show us a lot, whether their score is down."
Contrary to the dumb-jock stereotype, it takes brains to play football. So protecting them is a no-brainer!