ALFCA is asking our member football coaches about the state of prep football in Alabama. In the coming weeks we will take a thorough look at how the game has changed and where it could be going in the future.
The one thing that has always been constant about football is that the game is ever changing regardless of the level of play. College football is moving so fast that even the schools themselves are a little confused about where it is going. Over the past decade or so, high school football in our state had gone through some major changes. Depending upon whether you coach at a small school or a big school, a private school or a public school, each coach may have a different opinion as to whether the changes have been good or bad.
Let's take a look at the top 10 changes that have taken place in the last decade in Alabama high school football. In the days to come, we will research each of these issues in depth.
10) The NFHS Network - the ability to livestream all of your games on the internet is changing the way high school fans watch football. More and more games in our state are bring streamed each season as the technology gets better and more simple. The debate on whether this will be good or bad for your football program in the long run is still ongoing. But the NFHS Network is here to stay.
9) Reclassification - The AHSAA now has seven classes after 30 or so years of a six class system. This created better competition at the top of 6A but also pulled some schools up into bigger classifications. Where most regions at one time had 8 teams, we know have regions of anywhere from 6 to 9 teams. Competitive balance has been added as a regulating factor for private school continued success in addition to the 1.35 multiplier. We even have a classification "reveal" show now online.
8) Safety Guidelines - Player safety and the legal concerns have been in the forefront over the last decade. It started with concussion issues and protocols and continued with hydration and heat concerns in preseason practice and games. This led to state mandated practice guidelines all over the nation. The Covid epidemic forced coaches to look at every detail of the safety and cleanliness of players every minute they are with the football team. The importance of having emergency plans and organizing all of the safety issues is critical to keeping your school and team legally safe as well. Today, there are more athletic trainers working with teams at practice and games than ever before and most consider football to be safer than it has ever been. The earlier start dates in August are a concern for some, particularly the veteran coaches.
7) Parents - The demands of parents for the team to win and their son to receive early playing time, excel and receive an athletic scholarship after his senior season is increasing each year. The parents who get "the big picture" and value the high school football experience as part of a team for their son is decreasing. Working your way from the bottom to the top is not a concept that many parents believe in today. There are still a lot of good parents that support the team and coaching staff though thick and thin, but the number is dwindling.
6) Practice - The way we teach the game on the field had changed. Today, you can practice almost every day during summer in shorts and helmets, and we have 7 on 7s and some teams have OTAs with other schools. We have state guidelines for spring drills and preseason practice including the number of days in pads, the amount of full contact and practice time limitations. Two a days are almost nonexistent because of all of the summer days in shorts. We can now eliminate spring practice and start preseason drills a week earlier if we choose. Coaches can even work with athletes 2 hours a week in the off season, which can be great to help the younger players develop but also leads to a whole host of other issues with other sports. As a general rule, teams today practice much less in full gear, have less contact, less live blocking and tackling than ever before. There were teams this past fall that had no spring practice and played a game after practicing only 7 days in full pads.
5) Social Media - Coaches say that social media allows you to promote your program and players in your community and beyond in ways we never dreamed of 15 years ago. If you want to publicly compliment one of your players or your team as a whole, there is no quicker or better way than Twitter. After games, parents are posting pictures of the players after the big win. Teams can thank sponsors and allow hundreds of others to be aware of that support. But the other side can be pretty rough. Players with vulgar messages, promoting themselves or criticizing teammates, parents blaming coaches for losses or not enough playing time for their child have become common place. Coaches have been fired for what they have posted on their pages. Some coaches are using social media to encourage players from other schools to transfer. Using social media and monitoring everyone associated with the program has become a huge issue for all coaches.
4) The use of technology/video on the sidelines - Most coaches agree that this has been a gamechanger. In previous years, a coach that could watch the game and see where the other team is aligning or see the blocking scheme that is hurting the defense was worth his weight in gold. Everyone wanted a coach in the press box to see the action better. Today, coaches can watch each play of the last series on an iPad, show the critical play on a big screen TV to the players and coach their mistakes by watching the video on the bench during the game. You can set up the same thing in the locker room at halftime. "You don't have to wait until after the game to watch the film to see what happened," one coach said. The biggest problem - the effectiveness depends on your technology budget and how many players you have that play on both sides of the ball. One other thing. "This is truly a game changer," one coach said. "When it works."
3) Transfers and Recruiting - Players leaving one school and going to another have become rampant in both private and public schools. It is a problem across the nation. Schools now build rosters with transfers like college and rumors abound about who might be going where before next season. Coaches with an average team with a star player worry all summer that he may not show up one Monday. School boosters and parents today often encourage other parents and relatives with athletic kids to transfer and come to our school. Successful teams seem to get more "move ins." Parents who want their son to play on a championship squad or get more exposure look to transfer into a school district with a bigger or winning program. "The idea of playing for your school and community has given away to doing what we think is best for the future of our child," one 6A coach commented.
2) The Spread Offense - It has completely changed the X and O part of high school football. If you have three or four really good athletes, you can get them the ball in space and score points. A quarterback that can run and throw can transform your team from a loser to a winner. With all of the 7 on 7 in summer, you can work on your pass offense against another team in July. You can still be successful even if you are short on linemen. The RPO game has really put defenses in binds and has forced head coaches and defensive coordinators to work hard and come up with new concepts and coverages. "Defenses are adjusting to the spread and do a better job of playing defense each year," one south Alabama coach said. Fast paced tempo has led to the 40 second clock rule and had created concerns and debates about the number of plays in a game. The need for speed is bigger now than ever before.
1) Technology - We should just say Hudl - because nothing has changed high school football like Hudl. The ability to film practice today and go home and watch it on the computer was great. We videoed the game and watch it right afterward. Coaches can pull out their phone and watch next week's opponent. We exchange game film online and can now get just about any film we want on an opponent instantly. Coaches can make cut ups and send the video to the players to watch on this week's opposing team. Coaches can filter all of the opponent's goal line offensive plays and study them or create a cut up. Players can watch film at home on their own computer. We do highlight films of our college prospects and send them to recruiters. Coaches can send the film to Hudl Assist and they will do all of the offensive, defensive and kicking breakdowns for you. "The amount of time Hudl saves coaches compared to what we used to do is unbelievable", said one veteran coach. "The ability to use video to prepare your team is so much greater today. Hudl revolutionized high school football and gave us more time with our family during the season."