Prep football

Region football coaches ready for coming heat

2013-07-27T17:00:00Z 2013-09-16T18:39:21Z Region football coaches ready for coming heatSteve Hanlon steve.hanlon@nwi.com, (219) 933-4198 nwitimes.com

The old, with all of its great, back-slapping stories and pride in the past is over. A new day has arrived for high school football players and the way they combat the high temperatures that are expected when Indiana football camps open Aug. 5.

There are no more Bronko Nagurskis. And the goal of most prep coaches is there will be no more Korey Stringers.

The stories of high school football players practicing in 100-degree heat with a teaspoon of water offered every six hours are done. And have been for quite awhile.

"In the '80s if you took a water break people considered you soft," Portage coach Wally McCormack said. "Now, if the kids are in the huddle and one kid has six water bottles around him we don't care. Times have changed."

With this week being moratorium week in Indiana, coaches can rest a little easier. This past week, when most teams were in summer camp, was one of the coolest July weeks in recent memory. But most coaches know the law of averages says when the first whistle blows Aug. 5 the odds are it's going to be hot. Really hot.

And no one wants to relive the summer of 2001 when Minnesota Vikings' player Korey Stringer, Northwestern football player Rashidi Wheeler and Indiana high school player Travis Stowers, a 17-year-old lineman from Clinton Central High School, also died during the early stages of football practice.

Stringer's death was the only one directly related to heat at the time of the tragedies.

But since that week of woe, prep coaches have reshaped the way they do what they do.

McCormack's concern this coming week is that his Indians will sit in front of an air conditioner all week before practice starts.

They will open two-a-days with two shifts, 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., then the players will go home during the hottest minutes. They will return at 5 p.m. and have second session while the sun is setting and God's thermometer dips downward.

"If it gets real hot we'll adjust, too," McCormack said. "And unlike the past, we have water running the entire practice. Any player can get a drink at any time if they need it."

Munster coach Leroy Marsh is in his 36th season leading the Mustangs. He has coached from the olden days to the current moments of red flag concern. Marsh said huge changes are coming to Indiana high school football, likely in the 2014-15 school year.

The National Federation of State High School Associations in Indianapolis and the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research said that Exertional Heatstroke (EHS) has resulted in the death of 35 high school football players between 1995 and 2010. They estimate that the number is in the thousands for the number of players who were rushed to the emergency room due to EHS.

Marsh said the Indiana Football Coaches Association and the IHSAA have been working hard to change the guidelines for summer and in-season workouts to make sure the students are safe. The NCAA started making these changes first and the NFL is now addressing the new age as camps opened this week.

The Korey Stringer Institute is grading each state on how it deals with heat awareness and other issues, like the concern over concussions.

"Safety awareness is higher than it's ever been," Marsh said. "I've seen all the stages of high school football through the years. I believe we are moving in the right direction. The changes that are coming will be good for the kids playing the game."

Limits are coming to team's practices. How many days teams can have physical contact in full gear. How long practices can go. At least a three- or four-hour rest period between practices. And maybe even skipping days during the early part of two-a-days.

Most of the studies show the biggest area of concern are in city programs, where the money is less than in the suburbs and many of these student-athletes don't work out as much in the summer. Munster had nearly 30 practices this summer, so the Mustangs will be ready Aug. 5. Like most suburban schools.

"For our state we're fighting for football to remain viable," Marsh said. "The head concussion people are making a good point. How many hits can a body take? We need to peel it back.

"I've been in this profession longer than anyone around. We don't have to go in full pads for three hours when it's 97. Most coaches understand this and are moving forward."

Chesterton coach Mark Peterson is doing the same kind of things. His Trojans will start practice at 6 a.m. and are done before the real heat hits. If it gets hot and the heat index rises, the players will go into a cool room and do board work. Peterson said you can never get enough board time.

It is not 1960 anymore and most everyone understands this now.

"We will do everything we can to keep the kids safe," Peterson said.

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