Kensington football coach Sean Ryan is as concerned about injuries as anyone, but he doesn’t like the new rule in New Jersey that limits in-season full contact in practices from 90 minutes to 15 minutes. Ryan said the rule was too strict and unfair to schools like his that don’t have a junior varsity team for players to learn on.

“I don’t agree whatsoever with those guidelines,” said Ryan. “I’m OK with limiting contact. But 15 minutes? You might as well just eliminate [full contact]. It would be like playing basketball and not being able to play a full-court game in practice."

In an effort to provide more safety to players, the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association approved legislation in February to limit in-season full contact in practices to 15 minutes and preseason full contact from unlimited to six hours, including scrimmages. Full contact is defined as when a player takes another player to the ground.

Such rules are becoming more popular because rising concerns about concussions and other injuries have resulted in declining participation in high school football. In the 2017-18 season, 11-player football, selected by 37 percent of U.S. adults as their favorite sport in a 2018 Gallup poll, had 20,565 fewer athletes than the previous season, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Ryan also expressed concerns for players’ safety when they get into games and aren’t used to the full-contact hitting they will see on game day.

Terry O’Neil, the founder of Practice Like Pros, the organization that worked with the NJSIAA to create the new rules, cited an annual study done by the University of Colorado Denver that O’Neil said disproves the theory that reduced contact in practice result in more injuries during games.

Conwell-Egan coach Jack Techtmann does not agree with Ryan.

“I really don’t have any problem with it,” said Techtmann. The PIAA "could put that rule in, and I don’t think it would affect our practice because we’ve already done it on our own.”

Techtmann, making a point to quarterback Kendall Jones, said there are plenty of ways to cut down on football injuries.
Techtmann, making a point to quarterback Kendall Jones, said there are plenty of ways to cut down on football injuries.

One reason Techtmann has no issues with the rule is that his program has spent about $25,000 on equipment -- like tackling mats and protective concussion helmets -- to prevent injuries since he rejoined the staff in 2011. He discovered the equipment and practice techniques during annual coaching clinics at Penn State.

The NJSIAA’s plan for enforcing the rules are likely to have coaches keep records of their full-contact practices. But it didn’t announce any potential discipline for coaches who don’t follow the rules.

“How much do I think teams would abide by it? Zero percent," said Ryan. “How much do I think people will say they’re abiding by it? One hundred percent.”

Olney coach Mike McKeen echoed Ryan regarding enforcement.

“You will read an article about somebody’s parent complaining [that a team is] doing too much hitting," said McKeen. “There are some coaches that have that mentality that you have to hit and are stuck in the old ways.”

Olney's Eric Barrow (left) pushes off against Southern's Richard White.
Yong Kim/Staff Photographer
Olney's Eric Barrow (left) pushes off against Southern's Richard White.

McKeen, who said the rule was a natural progression as the sport evolves into more of a skill game, added that there are different ways to teach tackling without full contact.

“You can get a lot done practicing without kids bashing their heads into one another,” said McKeen.

Although his own son, Kyle Techtmann, suffered a concussion, broken collarbone, broken wrist and had ACL surgeries on both knees during his football career, Jack Techtmann said that football still offers something to players that nothing else does.

“I have talked to parents about the rewards of playing our sport and what is does for you as a person down the line in your life,” Techtmann said. “But, if you have fear of your son getting a concussion, that’s a real concern.”