There is plenty of hitting in football — thunderous blocks and bone crunching tackles aren’t going anywhere.
More and more, though, high school coaches are saving them for game field.
The growing trend at all levels of football is to invite less contact and fewer collisions in practice. It’s filtered down from the National Football League to the college ranks and high school fields all over the North Shore.
The picture of a player covered in mud after a full-speed tackling drill and panting for water after wind sprints could be classic Americana.
That vision of double and triple sessions that are harder than Marine boot camp is also becoming antiquated.
“There are guys on my staff that played for me in the late 1990s and they say ‘Coach, what happened to you?’ Back then, the old mentality was make practice harder than the game, and maybe that’s not for the best anymore,” said Bishop Fenwick coach Dave Woods, entering his 16th season.
“Let’s beat everybody into the ground and see who survives — that doesn’t work today.”
Injury prevention plays a big role in managing practice drills. The nationwide emphasis on recognizing and preventing concussions isn’t lost on high school coaches, who are looking at losing a potential starter during an big hitting drill at practice as a waste.
“When I was a freshman, Eddie Toner broke his arm in a scrimmage. Our season went from championship to 6-4 real fast,” Swampscott coach Steve Dembowski recalled. “(Former Big Blue coach) Bill Bush always told me that story ... and that lesson stuck in my head.”
Numbers play a role as well. Schools will shrinking enrollments like Swampscott and Fenwick simply don’t have as many players on the practice field as they once did. That makes losing one to a careless injury that much more impactful.