By James Wagner, Published: August 21
“You always worry about contact and you try to limit it,” said Jerry Gordon, the head coach at Woodgrove High in Purcellville. “But you have to be able to play football.”
Practice guidelines were generally designed with heat-related illnesses in mind, limiting when players can be in full pads. The Virginia High School League guidelines aren’t a requirement but recommend that schools adhere to a six-day acclimatization schedule. No back-to-back full-contact two-a-days are allowed until the fourth week of practice, with no one practice lasting more than three hours or totaling five hours per day. The Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association doesn’t set guidelines, leaving it up to each school district. In D.C., the policy allows two-a-days only after an eight-day acclimatization period, but not on consecutive days.
The surest way to combat the potential for head injury is, simply, to limit hitting in practice, where players give and receive the largest share of hits, Cantu said. He said even teenagers and young adults he has studied have shown early signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease caused by head trauma, from small non-concussive hits to full-blown concussions.
When hitting is needed, Cantu said proper technique needs to be stressed and coaches should even consider using dummies to prevent full-force hits between colliding bodies. And during walk-throughs, no-contact practices where plays are rehearsed, players should be without helmets to avoid hits, he said.