Almost 80 Wake County high school and middle school head football coaches and certified athletic trainers completed the classroom and practice sessions of USA Football’s eight-hour Heads Up Football certification program Thursday at N.C. State’s Murphy Center.
The course included sessions on concussion recognition and response, proper fit of equipment, heat and hydration safety and the proper technique in tackling. The sessions included classroom instruction and hands-on drills on the field.
The coaches were given 18 drills that help teach proper tackling techniques and they were urged to standardize their tackling terminology so players are taught the same way throughout their careers.
The coaches were taught that the first phase of a tackle is the breakdown – feet set, shoulders pulled back, knees bent and hands in front.
The buzz is taking short choppy steps toward the ball carrier.
The hit is contact with the front of the shoulder pads, not the top of the shoulder pads.
The shoot is when the hips move forward and up.
The final step is the rip with both arms making upper cuts around the ball carrier.
“I’ve heard people say you can’t teach tackling unless you are in full uniform and full contact,” said Jimmy Wallace, who built a 286-67 record and led teams to four state titles while coaching at Rock Hill (S.C.) Northwestern High. “I don’t believe that. You can teach tackling with drills that can be done in helmets and shoulder pads.”
Wallace, former Concord High coach E.Z. Smith and former Penn State running back Ricky Upton acted as instructors. They repeatedly said coaches are the guardians of the game and that the course is designed to make football safer.
The coaches are expected to take what they learned and share it with their assistant coaches, players and parents.
The Wake system is the first in North Carolina to bring in all of its head football coaches for the course, but the program will be given in upcoming weeks in Forsyth County and Pitt County. Smith said other systems throughout the state are making inquiries.
The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Association recently adopted the Heads Up program and instructed all of its head football coaches.
“It is the best program out there right now,” said Darren Coe, the Wake senior administrator for athletics. “We want to be in the forefront of player safety.”