Hillsborough High School’s head football Coach Kevin Carty says making players aggressively tackle each other to the ground for hours during practice is a thing of the past. And it’s not just his program. Come this summer, it will be a statewide rule.
“Sometimes people have this perception that we’re out here killing our players. We haven’t done things like that for many years,” Carty said.
Last week, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, or NJSIAA, unanimously approved a plan to reduce in-season full practice field contact from 90 minutes per week to 15. Pre-season full contact will be reduced from unlimited to a total of 6 hours — that includes scrimmaging. Full contact is considered tackling that brings a player to the ground. The new regulations are the strictest rules ever passed in the history of the sport.
“I think these types of rules are really kind of more in line with what we’ve already been doing, but it kind of gives people confidence to know that if you’re playing high school in the state, you’re going to be treated in this way,” Carty said.
The guidelines were introduced after growing concerns about the potential of traumatic brain injuries. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, there has been a steady drop over the past decade. In the 2009-2010 season, about 1,109,000 boys played. That dropped to about 1,108,000 in the 2010-2011 season, and then continued to fall by the 2015-2016 season to about 1,080,000.
Despite the decline, it is still by far the highest level of participation for any high school sport.
But River Dell High School’s head football coach DJ Nimphius disagrees with the new rule.
“I think the new restrictions are shallow. Maybe we need to start looking at maybe guys that are being tackled don’t know how to defend themselves against being tackled and that why we are having this rash of injuries with guys getting tackled in games,” said Nimphius.
While most football players NJTV News spoke with admit they like tackling during practice, they also agree it can come with consequences.
“When you’re tackling a lot of times during practice, it can eventually takes its toll,” said sophomore Jordan Nussbaum.
“So, just tackling to the ground every single play in practice, doesn’t even occur at the college level, so there wouldn’t necessarily be a reason for it to occur at the high school level as well,” said junior Johnathan Seaton.
“There’s no way to get around the game. The game is extremely physical,” Nimphius said.
Under the new rule there is no limitations on thud contact, when players collide but don’t go to the ground. Carty says the NJSIAA will likely ask coaches to maintain a log to make sure that everyone is following the new rule.