High School Football

Padding pivotal for planning high school football on Grand Strand

You better believe when the South Carolina High School League altered the rules for spring football practices that most coaches started foaming at the mouth.

The governing body switched the 10 days of offseason exercises to include seven days of full-contact drills in 2008. Local coaches have taken advantage of another caveat to the high school football arms race.

The trick, many of them believe, is getting looks at players who otherwise could be enigmas come July 31, the first official day of practice this year in South Carolina.

"It's a totally different story," Conway coach Chuck Jordan said. "Before, you really got to a point with 10 days and no pads that it got a little bit redundant. There's only so much you can do. ... You could have a guy who in the spring looks like Tarzan. You get him hitting, and he looks like Jane."

Most coaches interviewed by The Sun News said something similar: The unknown of how a player is going to respond once the pads are strapped on can be a bit frustrating.

That's where the S.C. High School League's implementation holds another purpose, too. These days, it isn't like most high school football players are spending their summers at the beach.

There are voluntary workouts, team meetings, passing leagues and film study.

Now, before they get into that, there are 10 days - seven of which are run full-bore - leading into the summer "vacation."

"Going through the seven days of contact, you're able to evaluate a kid and make a decision on where he's going to play," said Myrtle Beach coach Mickey Wilson, whose team will participate in its first passing league sets on June 5 at Aynor High School. "To me, when you go into summer, you're not getting a lot of wasted reps."

So before the coaches set schedules for all those passing leagues and summer workout sessions, they already have a better feel for who is going to be contributing come August.

North of the border, it's a different story.

North Carolina High School Athletic Association rules prevent any contact during the offseason. Coaches are allowed to work with up to 21 players at a time in certain skill-building sets.

According to Rick Strunk, the associate executive director of the NCHSAA, the reasoning for current policy is two-fold.

"There has not been much push by football coaches to have [offseason contact]," Strunk said, before adding a logistical standpoint other states have grappled with. "The challenge is how to do it and not dramatically affect spring sports. It hasn't been a major issue in our state in the past couple years."

For South Columbus coach Jake Fonvielle, that is more than sound.

He sees no reason to give up what is essentially maxed out opportunities to work with his kids during the spring and summer in lieu of going full-contact.

"I don't see where a spring practice would benefit us," Fonvielle said. "I could see if you had 100-150 kids in a program, it would be. But if you've got 30-40 kids like we do, banging on them eight months out of the year would be [detrimental]."

Fonvielle said the topic has been discussed at coaching clinics, but with the current set-up, he says most coaches he talks to are in favor of the status quo.

Back in South Carolina, two first-year head coaches at their respective schools are proving to be exceptions. Waccamaw's Tyronne Davis, who was previously at Georgetown, said he had to split up his contact drills because of the number of his players involved in spring sports. After getting the first eight practices out of the way, he is waiting until the first week of June to complete his contact sessions.

"Believe it or not, we have a few tennis and soccer players who also play football," Davis said. "We're not going to do a spring game because we're taking a lot of time teaching fundamentals.

"When August comes, it's a timetable then. You have your first game and your scrimmages and your jamborees. You don't have a lot of time to teach."

First-year Green Sea Floyds coach Joey Still is passing up on the option nearly altogether, at least this year. He will not hold a single contact session this spring.

In addition to his kids doing what Still feels is enough simply learning his offensive and defensive systems, he's also worried about protecting his players.

"If he hasn't been running every day or hasn't been lifting weights or he isn't in shape - it's been a year since he's had a physical - you're taking a chance on that kid," Still said.

Again, coaches like Still are the exception this year. With the option available, the pads have and will continue to crack during the offseason.