In an effort to minimize the risks of football injuries, particularly concussions, the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association recently endorsed USA Football's Heads Up Football High School program.
The PSFCA is also recommending that PIAA coaches enroll in the program's training and course work.
"The health and safety of Pennsylvania's student-athletes (are) our top priority," PSFCA executive manager Garry Cathell said in a news release. "Implementing USA Football's Heads Up Football program will provide our coaches with the education and resources to best teach the sport, ultimately making the game better and safer for our student-athletes."
The Heads Up program, created and administered by USA Football, teaches blocking and shoulder-emphasized tackling techniques designed to reduce helmet contact. It also helps develop skills such as concussion recognition and response, sudden cardiac arrest protocols, hydration and heat preparedness and instruction on proper helmet and shoulder pad fitting.
"This is an important commitment by the (PSFCA) for its members and student-athletes," said USA Football chief executive officer Scott Hallenbeck in the news release. "Coaches are teachers. This empowers them to establish an exciting new standard across the state, raising the bar for fun and positive football experiences with lasting fitness, academic and social benefits."
Heads Up nothing new?: Some area coaches, however, feel the program isn't necessarily breaking new ground.
"We've been teaching tackling like that, not leading with the head, for years," Dallastown head coach Kevin Myers said. "We teach the gator roll, or hawk roll, like a rugby-style tackle."
Myers said that Dallastown's youth programs utilize Heads Up. And that level might be where the most value lies. Many youth coaches throughout the country are volunteers, often parents with limited or outdated knowledge of the proper tackling techniques.
"For volunteers, it's a program where (teams) can say 'here's how it's done, here's how you teach tackling.' And I think that's the biggest benefit of the program," Myers said.
York Suburban coach Andy Loucks notes Heads Up has been around for some time. He also notes his program utilizes many tackling techniques used by major NCAA Division I programs.
"It's nothing new or groundbreaking," he said. "Most schools and coaches have been using the techniques they stress for years. I run our practice sessions similar to what you would see if you watched practice at the college level — minimal full contact tackling in team or group work, focused on skill not contact."
Loucks said he has plans this season for a new teaching tool that will allow defensive players to practice tackling at full speed without using another player as the tackling dummy.
While he says his team has employed a number of techniques for many years, York Tech coach Charlie Troxell says his team still plans to make use of Heads Up to potentially update their methods.
"I think it is a great thing as a preparation for the season, always putting player safety first, and safety backed up with great techniques to teach blocking and tackling," Troxell said. "We will update our knowledge of what we already do with what we learned and coach accordingly.
According to the release, more than 1,100 high school football programs nationwide enrolled in Heads Up High School Football in 2015. That same year, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations' annual high school athletics participation survey, there were more than 14,000 11-man programs nationwide.
The Heads Up Football High School certification course is developed by the National Federation of State High School Associations. USA Football is an education partner of the NFSHSA.
Reach Elijah Armold at firstname.lastname@example.org.