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High school football coaches and players in this corner of the state have varying opinions about the IHSA's new contact rules, which were approved in April and have been used for the first time this summer.
This is the first summer that, during team workouts held during summer practice days, players weren't allowed to wear full pads. Nor were coaches allowed to conduct full contact drills. Tackling to the ground was made off limits too.
The changes are an effort by the IHSA to limit concussions and head injuries, along with lesser sub-concussive hits, which some scientists believe can be equally dangerous to kids whose brains are still developing.
The interesting thing is, me and my staff keep track of the numbers and statistics in all our sports," Libertyville football coach Mike Jones said. "And believe it or not, last year, football wasn't the sport we had the most concussions in at our school. And I don't want to single any one sport out either, because the numbers seem to vary from year-to-year.
"As far as my own players go, I don't think the change will be a huge deal. It may affect how some teams play the first few weeks a little. But we've never been a team that's gone full pads all the time during the summer anyway.
"We'd alternate pads and no pads, things like that," Jones added. "We're not trying to beat our kids up before the real games even begin. I can tell you we've seen an increase in minor turf burns on kids' knees and things like that, because they couldn't wear knee pads."
In past seasons, teams were allowed to start practicing in full pads beginning on the fifth day of the 25-day summer practice period, which spans between the end of one school year and the start of the following preseason (typically, the workout days are spread out between June and July).
The changes haven't bothered Mundelein junior starting free safety Mike Skarzynski, who transferred from crosstown rival Carmel during the offseason.
"(It hasn't bothered me) at all. The only difference with wearing full pads is you don't take to the ground, just fit up the ball carrier and practice form tackling," Skarzynski said. "It shouldn't affect the team because we still go full speed, just not to the ground, so our practices have game-speed intensity."
That, however, is the exact problem Lake Zurich coach David Proffitt has with the new rule changes. He didn't hold back his opinions on the matter.
"The other thing the IHSA changed is it limited the number of days you can be in helmets and shoulder pads, and it also stated players have to be in helmets-only a certain amount of days," Proffitt, who was inducted into the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame during the offseason, said. "I don't like the rule, one. The game of football is blocking and tackling. Basically, what they're saying is, you're limited on how to teach kids how to tackle properly.
"You can do certain things in helmets and shoulder pads that pertain to tackling and the fundamentals of learning it. But when you can't bring a kid to the ground, which is the name of the game, you're limiting yourself from being able to teach them safe, correct methods. Now, when preseason practices start in mid-August, we only have two weeks to teach our kids properly before the season begins."
Carmel coach Andy Bitto had similar thoughts, but is more concerned about how the changes may affect his newer players.
"That's my one real worry," Bitto said. "I haven't had the chance to see a lot of my younger players who are on varsity for the first time in full-contact drills, and that's a big concern," Bitto said. "Plus, there are a lot of players on our roster who've never played at the varsity level and felt that kind of contact at that speed.
"I don't really worry about the older, veteran guys who've experienced it as much," he added. "Hopefully, the 13 days, or two weeks they give us to get ready for the season is enough time. We'll see. I guess on the positive side, it's forced us to work even harder as coaches and hold ourselves more accountable to teach the X's and O's, and the finer details of what we're trying to accomplish without using actual shell-on-shell blocking and tackling."
Then, there was Lake Zurich senior defensive lineman Tim Hass's take on things.
"All I know is it's been a pretty cool summer compared to past years," Hass said. "So not having all those pads and extra weight on all the time has been kind of a relief. We all work extremely hard, but I don't think many of us miss having all those pads on when it's 90 degrees out."
August 9, 2014