Concussion fear forces changes to high school football practices

  • Article by: DAVID LA VAQUE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 25, 2014 - 2:36 PM

Football practices will feature less contact as the state High School League changes its rules.


At Lakeville North, any football drill contact is limited to the push/pull variety as evidenced by the drills between Ryan Bissonett (1) and Jeremy Ziemer (46).

Photo: Rich Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Concussions, football’s scourge from Pop Warner to the pros, have prompted changes to summer practices throughout Minnesota high schools.

Under a bylaw approved in May by the Minnesota State High School League Representative Assembly, football teams can conduct six contact practices during the combined months of June and July. Players must go through a four-day acclimatization process before participating in contact practices. And no practice can last no longer than 2½ hours, including time spent in meetings or watching film. The new rules take effect in 2015.

The high school league sought the changes in a state that it claims “has the most liberal rules in the country in regard to what is allowed” during summer football practices. Fewer contact practices, defined as those in which players wear full pads and block or tackle, means fewer repetitive hits to the head.

While no one doubts player safety is paramount, differences exist on methods for reducing contact above the shoulders and lessening brain injury risks. While free to conduct summer practices as they see fit, most teams already impose limits within the coming guidelines.

Players at two of the state’s top programs, Lakeville North and Totino-Grace, wear only helmets and shoulder pads. Contact practices are “thud tempo,” meaning players are engaging in close-range contact used to teach form blocking and tackling.

Both programs hold just one contact practice per week. But the new acclimatization process must be restarted if three consecutive days pass without contact. As a result, coaches at both programs are lamenting more time spent practicing just to maintain their normal workload.

Members of the Football Coaches Association are expected to push for changes to some aspects of the new rules.

“Any policy needs tweaking,” said Kevin Merkle, league associate director and head of the football task force. “You always need education and interpretation. But we don’t want them banging heads all the time.”

Revisiting guidelines

The National Federation of State High School Associations strengthened two rules designed to make football safer starting this fall. Penalties will be assessed for targeting as well as hits on a defenseless player. Targeting means taking aim or initiating contact above opponents’ shoulders. A defenseless player is one “who, because of his physical position and focus of concentration, is especially vulnerable to injury.

Summer practices are typically less violent than those in the regular season, with coaches especially mindful of not wanting to lose a player in practice.

Neither Totino-Grace coach Jeff Ferguson nor his Lakeville North counterpart Brian Vossen reported any injuries during summer workouts in helmets and shoulder pads.

“The state high school league has the best interests of student-athletes in mind,” said Ferguson, also the president of the football coaches association. “But as far as heat acclimatization, our climate is different from Florida or Texas. It would make us practice five more times.”

Merkle acknowledged the need to clarify the language in the acclimatization guidelines for teams that use helmets and shoulder pads.

At Minnetonka, players start the summer with two-a-day practices, for three consecutive days, in full pads. Coach Dave Nelson said adhering to a new acclimatization process would be “not that big of a deal. Most of our kids come into camp in shape but we’ll adjust.”

Different approaches

Peeling off his helmet and shoulder pads at midfield last week, Lakeville North senior linebacker Tristyn Hanson itched for more football. He wasn’t alone.

“We’re like, ‘Really? We’re done? It’s only been an hour,’ ” Hanson said.

Working together in pads each Wednesday, the Panthers enjoy a physical, hands-on approach to practice. They are allowed to hit, be hit and get the feel for their pads.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Atlanta 2
Philadelphia 3 FINAL
NY Yankees 1
Detroit 5 FINAL
Baltimore 4
Toronto 4 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Cincinnati 2 FINAL
Cleveland 4
San Diego 3 FINAL
Seattle 4
Chicago WSox 6 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Kansas City 13 FINAL
Texas 2
Oakland 9 FINAL
San Francisco 2
Wisc-Milwaukee 0 FINAL
Milwaukee 8
Arizona 6 FINAL
Colorado 3
Univ of Minnesota 1 Top 4th Inning
Minnesota 2
New York 41 3rd Qtr
Indiana 65
Phoenix 43 3rd Qtr
Orlando 52
Cleveland 41 2nd Qtr 5:20
Toronto 36
Utah 26 2nd Qtr 4:59
Boston 24
Charlotte 44 2nd Qtr 7:35
Brooklyn 21
Denver 7 1st Qtr 8:16
Minnesota 9
Detroit 12 1st Qtr 6:58
New Orleans 6
LA Lakers 11 1st Qtr 7:11
Miami 8
Philadelphia 13 1st Qtr 7:34
Oklahoma City 9
Memphis 11 1st Qtr 7:11
Houston 14
Sacramento 7:30 PM
San Antonio
Milwaukee 9:30 PM
Golden State
Portland 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Ottawa 1 1st Prd 2:04
Winnipeg 0
NY Rangers 0 1st Prd 15:23
Detroit 0
Pittsburgh 9:00 PM
Montreal 9:00 PM
Longwood 65 FINAL
Presbyterian 61
Campbell 64 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 72
Liberty 70 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 80
Ohio State 77 FINAL
Penn State 67
Maine 32 2nd Half 14:23
Albany 56
Duquesne 52 2nd Half 12:12
Fordham 40
George Washington 37 2nd Half 14:54
George Mason 36
Tennessee 54 2nd Half 11:14
LSU 44
Notre Dame 46 2nd Half 12:30
Louisville 45
SE Missouri St 46 2nd Half 12:11
Morehead State 47
St Francis-PA 37 2nd Half 14:16
Mount St Marys 31
Hartford 41 2nd Half 11:24
New Hampshire 40
Wagner 42 2nd Half 10:04
Robert Morris 59
Long Island 36 2nd Half 13:09
St Francis-NY 42
La Salle 34 2nd Half 14:08
Saint Josephs 33
Providence 45 2nd Half 14:26
Seton Hall 42
UCF 27 2nd Half 15:19
South Florida 52
Binghamton 30 2nd Half 13:06
Stony Brook 36
UMBC 20 2nd Half 10:17
Vermont 49
Sacred Heart 45 2nd Half 10:16
Bryant 45
Richmond 27 2nd Half
Massachusetts 25
Wake Forest 5 1st Half 14:02
Duke 14
Purdue 5 1st Half 14:20
Michigan State 6
Miami-Florida 10 1st Half 12:44
Pittsburgh 14
St Bonaventure 10 1st Half 14:11
Saint Louis 5
New Mexico St 14 1st Half 13:12
TX-Pan American 10
Houston 12 1st Half 11:27
Tulane 8
Howard 6 1st Half 14:32
SIU Edwardsville 8:00 PM
Eastern Ill
St Johns 8:00 PM
TCU 8:00 PM
Oklahoma State
Cincinnati 8:00 PM
USC 8:00 PM
Miss State 8:00 PM
Utah State 8:00 PM
Air Force 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Nebraska 9:00 PM
Colorado State 9:00 PM
Boise State 9:00 PM
San Jose St
San Diego St 10:00 PM
Oregon 10:00 PM
Oregon State
UC Santa Barbara 10:59 PM
Toledo 64 FINAL
Northern Ill 68
Wake Forest 69 FINAL
Boston College 53
Eastern Illinois 35 FINAL
UT Martin 68
Austin Peay 69 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 72
Virginia Tech 57 FINAL
NC State 56
Massachusetts 55 FINAL
St Bonaventure 49
Auburn 71 FINAL
Florida 49
Penn State 63 FINAL
Indiana 68
Clemson 49 2nd Half 3:15
Georgia Tech 72
Davidson 44 2nd Half 8:57
La Salle 56
Loyola-Maryland 30 2nd Half 11:54
Lafayette 44
Boston U 31 2nd Half 8:50
Colgate 45
Coll of Charleston 44 2nd Half 14:59
James Madison 66
Delaware 43 2nd Half 16:30
Elon 45
Drexel 40 2nd Half 11:03
Northeastern 27
Hofstra 48 2nd Half 13:21
UNC-Wilmington 50
Towson 40 2nd Half 10:34
William & Mary 51
Miami-Ohio 37 2nd Half 13:05
Akron 51
Ball State 56 2nd Half 12:25
Central Michigan 46
Buffalo 33 2nd Half 13:43
Bowling Green 32
Western Mich 34 2nd Half 15:02
Eastern Michigan 40
Ohio U 45 2nd Half 13:06
Kent State 32
Youngstown St 52 2nd Half 11:37
Cleveland State 51
Illinois-Chicago 31 2nd Half 11:50
Wright State 55
Alabama 24 1st Half 0:23
Vanderbilt 26
Detroit 11 1st Half 11:55
Milwaukee 15
Purdue 7:25 PM


question of the day

Poll: Who is doing the best job coaching a Minnesota pro sports team?

Weekly Question





Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters