This is the second part of a two-part series discussing the ever-evolving issue of football and concussions. Part one was printed in Friday’s edition of the Daily Reporter.
There are several ways football coaches at the local levels try to prevent concussions from ruining a player’s game or season. With new tackling fundamentals and advanced technology in today’s game, football is progressing to keep players safe.
Most area coaches agree that concussion risk can be reduced by using proper tackling techniques. But what is the proper technique? A trend to lead with the head has blossomed as of late, especially in the NFL.Coaches in Hancock County, like a specific NFL team, are using another sport as an example to teach the safest and most productive form of tackling.
“We probably emphasized more the rugby style,” Class 2A No. 8 Eastern Hancock coach Jim O’Hara said. “Our kids aren’t really good at it yet, but we agree with the Seattle Seahawks’ philosophy with keeping the head out of the game.”
Rugby tackling involves players picking one side of the ball carrier’s body and using a low shoulder impact to take them down. Traditional tackling usually calls for the defender to put his head on the ball, which leaves the top of the head exposed and in a vulnerable position.
“Sometimes when you’re doing the rugby tackling, since they’re tackling low, it looks like their head is dropping,” O’Hara said. “We say eyes on the thighs. You can’t tackle a guy straight up.”
“It also has to go with strength training and a stronger neck. From a year ago today I would say we’re better at tackling.”
Coach Kyle Ralph and the Class 5A No. 1 New Palestine Dragons have also adapted the Seahawks’ way of teaching proper tackling. He’s been teaching this method for the last couple years.
“Keep your head up,” he said. “It’s still a shoulder tackle but very forceful and impactful.”
As a team, the Dragons did not have any concussions on their varsity football team through game play. The size and speed of New Palestine’s defense helps, as Ralph said the hitter rarely is the one to suffer the concussion.
“I think them being able to finish through plays and not have players finish through them has been huge,” he said.
Ralph described the helmets when he played in high school as, “air pockets with cement on the outside.”“My helmet in high school seemed like it weighed 700 pounds,” he said. “It fit your head tight and snug.”The Revolution Speed helmets were becoming popular when Ralph moved from high school to college. Each year the helmets become lighter and lighter, as helmet companies try to accommodate the quick pace of the game.
Nearly all high schools have converted to the present concussion reducing helmets, though, as the athlete’s safety is the biggest concern.
“The helmets have changed dramatically,” Ralph said. “I think some of them (helmet companies) are making their money while the concussion issue is hot. They are coming out with something new every single year. No matter what you put on your head, you can get a concussion at any moment.
“No helmet technology is going to change it either.”
However, both Ralph and Greenfield-Central head coach Roger Dodson, who is in his 40th year coaching football, agree that each school has done a tremendous job of making sure each kid has the best equipment available.
“Our athletic director Al Cooper and the district have done a tremendous job of putting us in the best and highest rated helmets you can find,” Ralph said. “It’s important, we care about our kids safety.”
Said Dodson, “I think we’ve been pretty proactive at Greenfield-Central with helmets. As a coach, you want to put the best on your kids that you can. We’re always looking to see if one is proven better.”
The area’s best
Hancock County had several players rack up double digit tackles in Week 1. Fourteen players recorded seven or more as Owen Hunt of Eastern Hancock led the county with 20 total.“He’s the most passionate player on our team,” O’Hara said. “He’s all in and built like a wrestler. It’s a lot simpler for him to tackle that style (rugby) since he’s shorter.”Four players also recorded an interception and eight more finished with a sack.
Mt. Vernon suffered a tough 21-6 opening week loss to No. 5 Hamilton Heights last Friday but had several defensive players make a handful of tackles.
Mitch McCarthy and Nathan Seifert recorded 15 and 12 tackles apiece, respectively.
“Pretty much tackling now is athleticism,” Mt. Vernon head coach Doug Armstrong said. “Your good tacklers now are going to be your better athletes. They’re tough, they just have football instincts.”
Ralph echoed those thoughts. Dragon “tackling machines” Nick Brickens and Joe Izbicki finished with 15 and 12 take downs in Week 1, respectively.
“One, they’ve got great instincts,” Ralph said. “They are always near the ball. If they aren’t tackling it they are standing next to it.”
According to Ralph, the combination of instinct, athleticism and most importantly, technique, are keys to making a great tackler, like Brickens and Izbicki.
“They use great technique,” he said. “They know how to get someone to the ground using all the tools we’ve taught them.”