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Rule takes aim at vicious hits

08/31/2014, 3:42pm PDT
By Kirk Kenney

New high school football rule outlaws targeting the head to improve player safety.


Oceanside's Tommy Woo approaches St. Augustine quarterback Thomas Goodridge with his head up in preparation to make a clean tackle.

Shadow a football official for a couple of quarters and you’re bound to learn something about the game.

For instance, I learned Saturday night that when a high school player’s helmet comes off he is required to leave the field for a play to make sure that the helmet works and fits properly.

That bit of information came compliments of Steve Coover, who was observing games on the sidelines at Cathedral Catholic. Coover is the instructional chair for San Diego County football officials and the rules interpreter for the state. In his spare time, Coover is the principal at Mount Miguel High. Or is it the other way around?

Anyway, my main reason for visiting with Coover was to get an update on a rule change of particular significance this season that involves player safety.

High schools are following the lead of the NFL and NCAA with a “targeting” rule, which makes it illegal to take aim at a player’s head — with helmet, shoulder or arm/hand — when making a play. The emphasis is on lowering the target and wrapping up the player, as opposing to launching at him and inviting the possibility of a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit.

During a preseason football advisory committee meeting, Grossmont coach Tom Karlo said he was “nervous we’ll get a kid ejected for making a football play.” It was a common concern among coaches as they learn the new rule.

Coover understands it will take some time for coaches and players to get used to the rule because “these athletes have been playing since youth football and making what were considered great plays and now we’re saying those are illegal.”

Coover, among others, is doing his best to educate all those concerned. He said to be flagged for targeting officials are looking for three elements:

  1. The defensive player is taking aim, running directly at the opponent;
  2. The defensive player initiates the contact;
  3. The defensive player makes the hit above the shoulders.

“If those three things are happening, clearly acts that are meant to harm or injure the player, it’s not just a football play,” said Coover.

A 15-yard penalty (and automatic first down for a personal foul if comes against a quarterback) will be assessed against the offending player.

A hit deemed “flagrant” can result in an automatic ejection and potentially result in a three-game suspension. The suspension is at the discretion of San Diego Section commissioner Jerry Schniepp.

“Flagrant is really a judgment,” said Coover. “It would be where an official observes a defender or offensive blocker who appears to have one interest in mind and that is to take this guy out and go high to do it.”

Coover said he was contacted (receiving video emails) to review two targeting incidents following Friday night’s opening games.

The first incident involved a safety who made contact with a receiver. The question was whether the defender was following the path of the ball when the contact occurred, or whether he took aim at the receiver. No penalty was called on the play.

The second incident was a quarterback who was scrambling. When he was tackled, the defender’s elbow/arm came in contact with the QB’s head. The question was whether it should have been flagged as targeting.

“Those plays will be in my instructional video which will go out Monday to all the officials in San Diego with my comments on it,” said Coover.

This will be an ongoing process throughout the season — and perhaps longer — but the new rule certainly makes sense.

Hard hits have always been a part of football. So-called “vicious” hits I can do without and that’s where the game has gone in recent years.

“The coaches and players are doing a great job of adjusting to it,” Coover concluded. “The huge benefit is that it will prevent some serious injuries and keep our kids healthy, because we all want to see them play football.”

HELIX HANGS TOUGH

Several local schools took it on the chin this weekend from out of town teams, leaving top-ranked Helix to carry the banner for the San Diego Section.

The Highlanders upset Ventura St. Bonaventure, ranked No. 10 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports, late Saturday night 24-20 in a Brothers in Arms Classic game at Cathedral Catholic High.

Trailing 20-17, Helix went on a long drive in the fourth quarter that was capped by Curtis Holmes’ 2-yard scoring run to give the Highlanders the lead.

That left just under two minutes to play. St. Bonaventure moved the ball down the field, eyeing the red zone before the Scotties defense stiffened to get the ball back on downs and preserve the victory.

Helix faces another tough opponent on Friday, meeting Loomis Del Oro at 5 p.m. in an Honor Bowl game at Oceanside High.

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