The game of high school football is changing to one of a controlled violence.
"The bottom line is it’s making the game safer for kids," Booneville head coach Scott Hyatt said last week as he, ironically, prepared a practice schedule for Monday’s first full contact fall practice. "We’re doing everything we can to make it safer for them. We do impact testing and follow the concussion protocol when a kid has a concussion – the graduated return to play – we’re doing this NFL heads up tackling that is supposed to be a safe way to tackle.
"They’re changing the targeting rule where if you strike an opponent’s head with your helmet, elbow, fist, that’s going to be determined targeting.
That will extend to a possible ejection for blocks 10 or 15 yards behind the play, Hyatt adds.
Bearcat offensive coordinator Doc Crowley spent the early portion of Friday’s practice teaching the heads-up tackling maneuver through a drill series. Crowley had gone over the drill procedure with the staff on Thursday.
The idea is to allow players to see what they are hitting, given, of course, it comes at a time when hitting is permissible.
"They’ve also got this new defenseless player rule where if an athlete has their attention elsewhere that’s going to make them more susceptible to injury so if you come and clean them out," said Hyatt.
Included in defenseless interpretation is the quarterback.
"I was talking to an official. If you hit a quarterback above the shoulders, or if you leave the ground and lunge, launch yourself at him and hit him when he’s not looking, that would be considered (defenseless), and that’s a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down," said Hyatt.
Hyatt said he will insist that interpretation include his quarterback after making a pitch and focusing elsewhere.
When the Booneville Bearcats scrimmage against little league teams this Friday night in the annual Purple-Gold game it will count as one of their three full pad practices for the week.
To be fair, head coach Scott Hyatt will put the Bearcats through an additional practice after the "game" with the third through sixth grade players.
A proposal adopted by member schools of the Arkansas Activities Association last week mandates that after the first five days of preseason – which includes three days of no pads, and two days of helmets, shoulder pads and dummy contact – a team can have players in full pads only three times per week, none of which can be consecutive days, and game activities count toward the total.
On days when players are not in full pads, the pace is termed "thud," players may not take each other to the ground.
"We’ll go Monday full contact; Tuesday shorts, helmets, shoulder pads; Wednesday full contact, full pads; Thursday helmets, shorts, shoulder pads; Friday full contact," said Hyatt. "Now, you can go shorts, girdles, full speed, you’re just not taking them to the ground."
The three full contact days limit remains in effect after the season starts, which means the Friday night games count as one day.
"It will be no different than what we’re doing, other than it’s going to cause us not to play JV games," said Hyatt.
Because JV games are on Monday, a player could be out of full contact days by Friday and unavailable unless the team goes full contact on Monday and Tuesday then in shorts in Wednesday and Thursday.
The guidelines carry over to the spring practice sessions when you have three weeks to get in practices, so a coach could realistically schedule only nine full contact sessions, Hyatt said.
The Bearcats will get in one of their three full contact practices the week of Aug. 25 by visiting Springdale for a scrimmage against Springdale and Shiloh Christian. JV play will begin at 6 with starters to follow, Hyatt said.