published Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

New rules arrive for prep football

If a player’s helmet comes off during a high school football game, that player will be forced to leave the field for one play.

And if the ball-carrier’s helmet comes off, the play will be whistled dead immediately.

That’s one of the rules changes facing high school players this year, according to TSSAA assistant executive director Richard McWherter.

“If the helmet comes off during a live play and there isn’t a foul, then that person [whose helmet comes off] must leave the game,” he said. “A little bit of the rule is aimed at preventing concussions, but it’s mostly kids not fastening their helmets properly.”

McWherter indicated that some state associations experimented with the rule last year and found that helmets were coming off a couple of times per game and that the reason was straps weren’t snapped appropriately.

“I didn’t know it was that big a problem,” Red Bank coach E.K. Slaughter said. “With the kind of contact you have, it’s not a high number.”

The National Federation of High Schools adopted the rule hoping to impress upon coaches and players the need to have all helmets properly snapped.

One question that came up immediately is if a timeout could be substituted for a player leaving the game.

Another change is more of a further definition of blocking below the waist.

“In the past if someone is not in the free-blocking zone — if a defender’s hands touched you before you touched him — then all bets were off,” McWherter said.

“Now, 95 percent of the time [the call] will be whether the initial surge was an illegal block. Did [the blocker] go low or did he start above the waist and a defender pushed him down low?”

Local referees director George Shuford indicated that it was not a major change.

“It is an interpretation of calling the play. I don’t think coaches need to be concerned about it and I don’t think [the problem] is the way coaches are teaching,” he said.

There was no mention of defenders chopping blockers below the waist, which at times presented itself last year.

“There was some controversy on that last year where defenders were cutting offensive players, especially the fullback, out of the box and then in the box,” Slaughter said. “I was hoping there would be a rule that would eliminate defenders diving into offensive players’ legs. I don’t think there are that many backs or receivers blocking below the waist. It’s on defense where it’s a bigger issue.”

Contact Ward Gossett at or 423-886-4765.

about Ward Gossett...

Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...

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