High school football facing changes this upcoming season

CANTON, Ohio -  It's just a little more than a week before thousands of high school athletes officially begin football practice across Ohio.

Canton McKinley High School's head coach said, "Today was the culmination of summer camp, and basically our kids have a week off right now, and then the first official start day is July 30."

High school football season officially kicks off in a little over a month, and when it does players, coaches and fans can expect changes in rules related to kickoffs.  These changes are intended to reduce the number of violent collisions and ultimately the number of serious injuries.

The changes include allowing officials to impose five-yard penalties on kickoffs that go out of bounds rather than have a re-kick.

Gartrell Bentley, a veteran official and now high school football referee who works with Akron Public Schools, says the change is related to a national dialogue that has focused mostly on professional football kickoffs.

"The same reason the NFL wants to try to get away from kickoffs, that high speed collision. We want to get away from that high speed collision at that level, especially at the high school level nowadays," Bentley told Fox 8 News.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association is eliminating kickoffs altogether at the 9th grade level.  They have also decided that junior varsity football teams will only have a kickoff if both coaches agree to do so.

In games without kickoffs, the ball will be spotted at the 35-yard line to start halves and after scores. The ball will also be spotted at the 50-yard line after a safety.

"It's a learning curve for everybody and we all have to enforce it, and that's what the state wants us to do," Bentley explains.

In addition to the change regarding kickoffs, Bentley says the OSHAA is also urging officials to pay close attention to low hits by defensive players and to illegal man downfield this upcoming season.

Officials will also be enforcing an experimental rule in which any player with an equipment issue will have to leave the field for at least one play until the issue has been resolved.

Bentley says any player who is not in proper uniform will also be asked to leave the field until their uniform is properly addressed.

OSHAA is also requiring that officials pay proper attention to hydration and rules related to severe weather extremes -- both extreme heat and thunderstorms; their priority is on hydration, preparation and injury prevention.

"It is a fun time. Everyone is undefeated and optimistic and working hard, and we look forward in the city to a fun-filled season, a competitive season," said Akron Public Schools Athletic Director Joe Vassalotti.

"It's exciting, you know, I say 'it's that time of year again,' I say 'as a football coach this has got to be your favorite time of year,'" says Akron East High School's Head Coach, Marcus Hayes. "You have got to take care of your players. I mean, if you take care of your players they are going to take care of you during the season."