David Ramsey: Safer tackling, taught in high school, can help save endangered sport of football

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Photo - St. Mary’s head coach Archie Malloy runs his team through a drill during practice Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016, at Grace Center.  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
St. Mary’s head coach Archie Malloy runs his team through a drill during practice Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016, at Grace Center. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Coronado scores 50 points. And loses by 20. Doherty scores 83 points, allows 55 and doesn’t clinch victory until the fourth quarter.

Has defense vanished from high school football? Are hideously high scores now the norm? Is the new emphasis on safety weakening the effectiveness of tackling?

After examining local scores and talking with area coaches, I can offer answers to the questions.

No, defense hasn’t vanished and a few out-of-control scores are an aberration, not the norm.

And now for the third question:

Is safe tackling as effective as reckless tackling? Let's say this: The safe way is getting there.

Not long ago, most football coaches told their players to “get your head across” when making a tackle. In other words, make a ball carrier run through a neck. The teaching emphasized a lone-tackler philosopher.

The technique is effective, especially in one-on-one tackling. The technique also is dangerous, for the health of the tackler and the future of football. A fresh understanding of the lingering dangers of concussions has left mothers, and everyone else, concerned about the future of players on the field.

“Our sport is taking a beating,” says Archie Malloy, the coach at St. Mary’s and former coach at Mitchell. “People are taking potshots at football. But it’s a great game. There’s still nothing that teaches people more about life than lining up and play. I’m glad to see people are implementing things and making it safer.”

Malloy embraces new techniques in tackling. Pete Carroll of the Seahawks is a champion of rugby-style tackling, which tries to take the neck out of the sequence. Malloy is working to implement the rugby style with his Pirates.

Doherty coach Jeff Krumlauf is another rugby-style enthusiast. He explains the technique.

“Your eyes are up, and your butt is low,” he says. “You don’t lead with your head. You lead with your chest. You wrap the guy up and take the guy down.”

And in the ideal situation, you do the takedown with the help of your teammates.

Malloy preaches to his defenders the value of seeing themselves as part of a big, helpful unit. Yes, there are times when no other tackler is around. Malloy wants to eliminate those times. It’s safer to tackle while surrounded by helpful teammates.

“The things that we try to emphasize are grabbing cloth and grabbing skin and wait for the rest of the cavalry to arrive,” Malloy says. “We emphasize getting all 11 guys to the football.”

Average scores have risen slightly this season. An examination of 23 area teams revealed that average points allowed were 23.45 in the first two games of 2016, compared with 25.45 in 2017. (The Buffalo Bills, with a defense that finished in the middle of NFL rankings, allowed 23.62 points per game in 2016.)

In other words, outlandish scores have not become the rule.

Krumlauf of Doherty emphasizes football coaches always were concerned with safety. Coaches today are blessed with better equipment and a deeper knowledge about the dangers of old-fashioned tackling technique.

The game, Krumlauf and Malloy insist, is evolving into a safer, saner sport. Improved tackling techniques can strengthen the sport’s somewhat shaky current foundation.

Krumlauf emphasizes, every day, the requirement of “taking the head out of the impact.”

He laughs. 

“What is between the ears is kind of the most important stuff.”