High school football coaches adjust to a new, safer world

A whole new world.

High school football coaches around the area – heck, around the state – have no choice but to embrace it.

Football practices opened up on Monday five days later than they have in the past, thanks to new rules instituted by the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association based on studies, meetings, more studies and more meetings the second half of the previous school year.

The result? A kinder, gentler preseason, similar to what we’ve seen in the National Football League (espcially with the Patriots, right?) and college football.

The days of sweltering double sessions are just about done. For the high schools, they can’t really have them on the practice field until next week. So bring your notebooks and pay attention, players, because while you can be outside in non-contact drills for a couple of hours during one session, the other can only be a walk-through and meetings, classroom time, etc. You’re going to see some smart football players come Opening Night on August 31, right?

“Everybody’s in the same boat,” Nashua North coach Dante Laurendi said. “It’s not like there’s any advantage. We just have to figure out a way. The benefit is we get more mental time, more classroom time, and that’s really important.

“And now it’s just a matter of really adjusting. The first three days there can’t be any contact, even with bags (tackling dummies, etc.). So we’re kind of making up for that with more teach time.”

“We’ve usually had meetings,” Nashua South coach Scott Knight said, “but not to this extent. … So when we go out on the field in the afternoon,we’ll spend less time talking and more time moving. Now we can run a real fast-paced practice.”

Moving without hitting. There’s another wrinkle, no contact for the first week, basically, of practice.

The second week you can do double sessions, but not on consecutive days. And, as Nashua South coach Scott Knight added, you can’t do two so-called “strenuous” sessions in a day.

So if a team has a full practice in the morning, then that afternoon they can do a walk-through, but as Laurendi noted, “There can’t be any conditioning, there can’t be any weightlifting.”

“I wish we could weight lift in the morning,” Knight said. “But you can’t do anything strenuous twice. That’s considered strenuous, and if you want to lift in preseason, it would have to be part of your afternoon practice.”

Yes, it’s going to be an adjustment. On Monday, Nashua South had classroom time and meetings in the morning. Then in the afternoon the players were outside. North did things the exact opposite. Some other teams, like Bishop Guertin, were going with single sessions late in the day.

Gone are the days players would wilt in the heat with two-a-days (of course, this crummy weather hasn’t produced any heat early this week). But it’s the same in the NFL; no more double sessions, etc. for the Patriots.

The other issue coaches have had to deal with is the later start, with football now beginning the same day as the other fall sports. No special early start any longer.

But, on the flip side, coaches have been allowed more off-season contact (it’s like that now for all sports).

“It definitely helped,” Knight said. “We did 7-on-7s all summer, we run our stuff. We had a three-day mini camp at one point, and we also had a camp in May. … It was almost like having five nights of practice. With the 7-on-7s and the little minicamp we did, we kind of hit the ground running.”

Plus, Knight ran the Nashua Park-Recreation’s summer football camp, so a lot of the younger players he’d see this week were there. “I’ve basically had our freshmen two weeks,” Knight said. “Those kids are ahead of where we are usually.”

Change. Never easy to deal with.

“It’s just a matter of finding a way and changing the way we had to do things in the past,” Laurendi said.

The casualty of the late start is at least one scrimmage. Teams would normally be scrimmaging each other once later this week at some point, but those are history. They’ll have to wait until next week.

Opening night? It’ll be interesting.

“I would imagine it might take some teams to find (their level),” Laurendi said. “It usually does anyway. But you look at our scrimmage schedule, we scrimmage next week, and we’re just two weeks away. It’s wow, games are kind of on top of each other.

“Opening Night is two weeks from Friday, and we can’t hit until Saturday.”

So you wonder what effect that will have. The coaches probably don’t like the new rules, but let’s face it, with concussions, etc., school officials are very cautious with football. Safety first, and the coaches will all agree with that.

“We’re probaby going to be more healthy, I’d like to think,” Knight said. “We’ve had to get creative with our practice plans, I’ll tell you that. Three days, helmets only, no contact at all. … It makes sense. It’s fair. They’re doing the same thing at the college level. They’re just trying to be smart.

“You’ve got to get the horse to the gate or he can’t race. If we can get those kids to Game One healthy, feeling good. …”

Knight said the coaches have always had a good feel as to when to back off, but “now with these guidelines, you have no choice.”

Good? Bad? Hard to get used to? Safe for certain.

“I don’t mind it,” Knight said. “I really don’t mind it at all. We’ll see. I’ll let you know if I like it in two weeks, when I see how far along we are.”

A new high school football world. A safer world. Can’t argue with it.

Tom King can be reached at 594-1251,tking@nashuatelegraph.com, or@Telegraph _TomK.