The Culver Military Academy football team is the only high school squad in Indiana, and one of just 25 in nine states, participating in a new tackling program designed to help reduce the number of concussions and neck injuries among players.
The Heads Up Tackling program, being offered by USA Football, is a new technique that teaches the importance of using a player’s shoulders as the contact point. Andy Ryland, of USA Football, came to Culver on Aug. 9 to run players and coaches through a series of drills on the new form of tackling.
Ryland said the Heads Up program was officially rolled out last season at the youth football level. This is the first year it has been moved up to the high school level. While much of it stays the same, some of the program has been adjusted to meet high level of coaching and players, he said. Tackling is just part of the system, Ryland added. Coaches are also given instruction for equipment fitting – especially the helmet – and concussion awareness.
Heads Up Tackling has been endorsed by the Indiana Football Coaches Association and the National Federation of State High School Associations. USA Football is affiliated with the National Football League and the NFL players union, and serves as the NFL’s teaching arm for coaches and players.
While the technique is designed to be safer, it still packs the necessary punch to bring down the ball carrier. Ryland, who played inside linebacker at Penn State, told the players during one of their drills they should “load and explode” on the ball carriers but keep their necks and spines in alignment and have their shoulders making contact.
The keys are the shoulder strike and proper body mechanics, Ryland said. Staying low with a solid base will allow tacklers to hit and lift the ball carrier. The power comes from the tackler’s legs and hips, giving the defender his needed momentum to stop the runner.
CMA head coach Andy Dorrel said the school’s commitment includes having the coaches trained in the program, then getting the players to learn the proper technique through the Heads Up Tackling drills. The coaches also meet with the players’ parents to explain the program. CMA’s parent session was conducted after the August 16 scrimmage at South Bend Riley.