North Texas high school football players are preparing to start a new season, which comes with changes to the way many coaches teach tackling in an effort to decrease neck and head injuries.
Starting this season, the University Interscholastic League and the Texas High School Coaches Association become the first in the country to require all high school and junior high school coaches in the state become certified before they teach tackling to football players.
Though many Texas coaches will learn the new tackling technique for the first time this summer, Celina High School head coach Bill Elliott has been using it for several years now.
"We've already been tackling with the Hawk Tackle for four years, had a lot of success with it," Elliott said. "We need to make sure that our kids are safe, that they're taken care of.
Elliott, who in 26 seasons has won seven state titles with the Bobcats, said he's ahead of the curve when it comes to safety. He described the new method as follows: "Now I put my head to the backside, to his back hip. I lock my knees to my arms and I roll, so that brings his legs together, it takes him down. It takes my head out of that collision cause his head's going this way."
Elliott said 4,000 Texas coaches were trained on the new technique a few weeks ago -- that's about one-fifth of the coaches in the state. That included Arlington Seguin High School head coach Joe Gordon who said his staff spent 25 cumulative hours obtaining their tackling certification.
“[We want to do] anything that we can do to continue to have our student athletes play such a great game and also have the opportunity to minimize risk,” said Joe Gordon, Juan Seguin High School football coach. “We are always constantly working in our profession to improve and get better so that we can allow these kids to play this great game the right way.”
Gordon said the main change in the way the players will be taught to tackle is in the head. The players are now instructed to take their heads out of the action of tackling and take the impact on their padded shoulder.
“Head injuries are something that we are all concerned about,” Gordon said. “We play the game of life with our mental stamina so it is critically important that we do place a great emphasis on minimizing concussions or head injuries.”
Much of tackling is muscle memory and instinct, so breaking bad tackling habits require attention and repetition.
“Repetition is the mother of skill. A lot of these guys have learned some things that are no longer efficient, so we have to rep it, rep it, rep it,” Gordon said. “Everything we do to break those habits is going to be from a repetition standpoint.”
Conditioning and gym work has evolved to help minimize neck injuries.
“In our practice schedules, we have to have the time built in there and in our workout rooms we have to have time built in to strengthen our necks,” Gordon said.
Elliott added that while the goal is to minimize head and neck trauma, the new technique is still very effective for stopping a runner.
"Even though it's maybe not as aggressive, or old school as the old tackling, it can still be very successful and allow your athletes to perform well," Elliott said.
Coaches must get certified again each year. Starting in April 2019, coaches can get certified online.