Spring Football Debate Rages on for Ohio High Schools

By Kyle Rowland on April 25, 2014 at 8:30a
32 Comments

In most states, 6 a.m. is reserved for rooster crows. But increasingly, dawn represents the start of spring football practice for high schools.

From Alabama to Florida, Vermont to Connecticut, it’s not uncommon to see footballs flying and hear helmets crackling under a morning sun. Nearly 20 states have implemented spring practices with days that include full pads. 

Urban Meyer would like Ohio to be somewhere in the middle.

“Our [coaches] are so limited to what they’re allowed to do," Meyer said last week at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon Club in Canton. “A high school coach in Ohio is allowed to work with only four guys at a time. Think about that. You go down to Texas and there’s 85 guys out there working back and forth.”

Under the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s current rule, which came into effect in 2013, coaches in all sports can instruct as many as four athletes in out-of-season sessions. Football coaches have a 10-day period in June and July when they can conduct camps, clinics and seven-on-seven scrimmages.

Spring football in the South borders on religion. It’s an annual pigskin rebirth that creates excitement in a region where the sport is an obsession. For college coaches, it offers a chance to assess recruits, even freshmen, in a game-like environment.

Meyer enjoyed the luxury of making a state tour during his six seasons as head coach at Florida. The Sunshine State is already a hotbed for Division I talent. Additional practices give players more exposure to coaches during the April 15-to-May 31 evaluation period, thus more opportunities to secure a coveted scholarship.

At Ohio State, Meyer isn’t able to traverse the state in his SUV and watch a quarterback or defensive line prospect. Instead, he’s relegated to watching game film from the previous season.

“You’re going to come to Ohio to get great players,” Meyer said in February. “There’s the best-coached players in America in the state of Ohio. It’s old-fashioned football, old-fashioned coaching. And the one thing I love about the players in the state of Ohio, the respect factor is greater than any state in the country. The high school coach is still in charge of the program. When you go meet with a player in Ohio, you’re going to meet with his high school coach. You can’t say that about all the states across the country. That’s my favorite part about recruiting the state of Ohio.”

But...

“It’s much easier to evaluate in the South because you can watch them practice,” Meyer added. “Here, you go sit in the weight room and maybe watch them or they do some skill work. It’s almost another year of football if you look at it.”

Coaches in Florida have 20 practices, Texas has 18 in a 30-day period, even Vermont has five days of spring practice. Its northeastern neighbor, Connecticut, gives high school coaches the option of conducting 10 days of practice toward the end of the school year or adding four days to the start of practice in August.

“If there’s any way to get 10 days of spring football in the state of Ohio, then I’m here to help you,” Meyer said at the Ohio high school coaches convention in 2012. “If we can just get that done, because right now, other states are getting a little bit advanced because they get those 10 days.”

Meyer has since softened his stance, saying he’s supportive of having more coaching instruction and teaching opportunities at the conclusion of the spring sports season. He also raised questions about player safety in regards to full-padded spring practices.

But the issue isn’t going away. When Meyer speaks, it is news. Ohio high school coaches and the OHSAA have taken notice.

“Commissioner [Dan] Ross and the OHSAA staff discuss spring football practice from time to time because there are some coaches who would like to have some form of it in Ohio,” OHSAA spokesman Tim Stried said in a statement to Eleven Warriors. “However, there are many schools and high school football coaches in Ohio who do not want spring football practice for various reasons, such as they also coach a spring sport, they need a break from practice in the spring, and they won’t receive any additional compensation to conduct spring practice.

“The OHSAA has not supported spring football practice proposals, first and foremost, to protect participation in the sanctioned spring sports. Many of our member schools have told us that they would struggle to field baseball, track or boys tennis teams in the spring if some of their student-athletes didn’t play a spring sport to prepare for spring football practice. Furthermore, this would also set a precedent that other sports would also seek, such as spring volleyball practice or fall baseball practice.”

There’s no consensus from athletic directors and coaches across the state on what to do. Some want wholesale changes that include full-padded practices, others want time with an unlimited number of players and there’s even a group in favor of making no modifications to the current rules. Among the biggest opponents of spring football are coaches and administrators from small schools.

“We have a lot of kids that play spring sports, and spring football is going to discourage that. We don’t have enough kids,” said St. Henry athletic director and assistant football coach Dennis Wendel, who was a captain at Bowling Green under Meyer.

“If everyone starts to specialize, it will greatly hurt our programs. Next thing will be fall baseball and some kids would choose to do that instead of play football. In the end, all our programs will suffer. Big schools may have a different perspective.”

Not exactly. At least not Hilliard Davidson head coach Brian White, who’s led the Wildcats to two Division I state championships. He said he doesn’t have strong opinions on either side of the aisle, but noted the current structure isn’t filled with pitfalls.

Even at a school with nearly 2,000 students, White pointed out a host of issues, from adverse effects on athletes playing multiple sports to grass fields being torn up. He already believes too much is being asked of kids. They’re required to focus on sports all year and lose track of being a kid.   

“I’m sure there are benefits, but I’m not sure the benefits outweigh the cost. That’s where I like making decisions, on cost-benefit ratio,” White said. “You look at a state like Kentucky, they have spring football. I wouldn’t exactly say Kentucky’s pumping out a lot of superior football players. Indiana’s coaches have more opportunities to coach kids than we do. I wouldn’t say Indiana is pumping out more than athletes than Ohio is.”

White isn’t in a position where he has to compete with southern schools. His focus is on beating teams in the Ohio Capital Conference and the playoffs. If everyone is competing by the same rules, he’s content with whatever the language states.

But anytime competitive advantages are at stake, there’s the risk of abuse.

“Spring ball will create more teams breaking more rules,” White said. “Unfortunately, there are some coaches out there that don’t have a lot of integrity and aren’t going to police themselves.”

At St. Henry, where enrollment tops out at 300 and the football team has 50 players, the idea of spring practice is a nonstarter. Members of the team do workouts and lift weights during spring months, but fewer than 20 participate because of involvement in baseball and track and field. 

The Redskins have a rich athletic tradition, capturing six state football championships, four basketball championships and three baseball titles. Many of those teams had the same nucleus of players.  

Where southern states such as Florida hold an advantage over Ohio is weather. In Florida, spring sports begin and end earlier in the school year, allowing more access to football.

“We do a number of things,” St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale) head coach Rocco Cassullo said. “That first week you want to find out what guys from the JV level can do what. So you have a lot of position battles going on and you’re laying the foundation in your schemes. We get after it pretty hard. It’s nothing but beneficial to us.”

The 20 practices end with a spring game that’s attended by over 100 FBS, FCS and Division II coaches.  Casullo was a two-sport athlete and encourages his players to participate in a spring sport. When the season ends, they join the football team.

“They have no problem. Coaches like to see kids play other sports,” Cassullo said.

When Joey Bosa roared onto the scene for the Buckeyes last season, many observers were surprised, even Meyer. It’s not common for a defensive end to make an instant impact in major college football. Bosa finished the season with 44 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

A spectator in South Florida was not shocked at the onslaught: Cassullo. He’s seen his former players star as freshmen in the past. Aquinas is one of the top producers of Division I talent in the nation and has won two national titles and seven state championships since 1992.

“When they go to college as freshmen, they know what to expect with conditioning and summer workouts,” Cassullo said. “From a competition level, they’re just as good or even more advanced than most freshmen. We’re like a college program. I think that’s why you see a lot of St. Thomas alums playing on Saturdays.”

It all starts during the spring in Fort Lauderdale. College coaches are able to catch a glimpse of freshmen and sophomores who could blossom into blue-chippers. Bosa’s brother, Nick, began garnering attention from college programs as a sophomore. Ohio State is among his suitors and many recruiting experts believe he’s more advanced than Joey.

“From a college perspective, I understand where it’s a disadvantage to the Big Ten or the MAC,” Wendel said. “They’re missing out on 60 practices in the course of a kid’s high school career that kids in the South get.”

But does it matter? Ohio continues to be a top-five producer of Division I football players. The state provides high-end talent for much of the Midwest and the NFL. The U.S. Army All-American Bowl and Under Armour All-American game – high school football’s premier all-star games – feature Ohioans every year.

And the state’s flagship university is stockpiled with local products.

“I think things are going pretty well in the state of Ohio,” White said. “I read statistics every year about the number of athletes signing Division I scholarships out of the state of Ohio and it seems like it’s up there with everyone else. They’re behind California, Florida, Texas [and Georgia]. But they’re ahead of [45] other states. It seems like we’re doing something pretty well. I don’t know that that needs to change, to be honest with you.

“Change isn’t always better.”

32 Comments

Comments

nm_buck's picture

One thing I have always loved about tOSU is how many of our kids hail from Ohio.  If they allowed our young athletes the same time to hone their craft as their southern counterparts get, we would be able to compete without having to spend so much time and resources recruiting in FL, GA, VA, TX etc.  

I'm certain the OHSAA has a great reason for limiting practices.

+1 HS
DePasta's picture

Ahhh, the sound of complacency!  We are already in the top 5 so why should we try to get better?

+1 HS
nfischer's picture

Brian White is anything but complacent.  Ask someone who's played for him. It's a different perspective, but it's definitely not complacency.

Mortc15's picture

The fact all the southern states have all that extra time and Ohio still hangs with them in high school football shows how great the football talent in Ohio is. Regardless of whether spring practice rules change, Ohio will continue to pump out elite players and remain a routine state for the top programs to recruit.

Buck-I4Life

Soggy_McMuffin's picture

Amen brother!!

Gooz-fra-bah...

okiebuck's picture

No question about it; the Ohio High School Athletic Association needs to turn the boys and coaches loose with spring practices. Big disadvantage, and not only that, in Texas and other places, during the summer they have 6 on 6 games and tournaments that are a big plus for the QB's, WR's and RB,s; that's where I saw JT Barrett for the first time.

"Fate has cards that it don't want to show"

RoyMunson's picture

What happens when the participation in spring sports are cannibalized by spring football practice (in addition to spring volleyball, spring soccer, etc.)?

I know we all love football on this site, but the reality is that this would destroy spring sport participation in most Ohio schools, in addition to being a beast to regulate.

Sure the South has great football, but they have terrible high school basketball, due in part to their spring sports season creeping into the basketball season and talent.

It's just not as simple as it we all wished it were. Keep it the way it is.

+3 HS
Osurrt's picture

With two boys that are stilling enjoying multiple sports this is a valid point, BUT....by the time quality athletes getting into High School.....many of them are focused on 1 or 2 sports anyhow. So I think a 10-day fundamentals and conditioning period in the spring is a good one (no pads though).

Furious George 27's picture

Thats just not true, if the fear was that talented athletes would not play other sports because of this then why does the South also have great Baseball and Track prospects? The only reason why you get more quality  BBall recruits in the north is because players do not have the ability to go outside to do anything else in the winter months, in the South they would probably like not to be in a gym all day. Its all relative to what you can do outside. it is more of a disservice to not give athletes the option to hone their skills if they choose to do so. Your athletes are still going to play baseball, track etc just like they do down South so its not going to kill anything, and you need to have proof before you start claiming it will. BTW Soccer is played in the fall, so suggesting spring soccer would be the same as spring football that you are against.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

+1 HS
MauricXe's picture

Good on you Urban. Use that bully pulpit. I hope they listen to him.

The better trained Ohio athletes are, the better the Buckeyes, and even the rest of the B1G, becomes.

+1 HS
d5k's picture

It's one thing to have a high school that produces a lot of good football/basketball players, but when the high school operates as a minor league team more than a school I don't think that should be the model for all other programs.  St Thomas is obviously great at producing football players, and Oak Hill / Findlay Prep are great at producing basketball players.  I'm not sure having specialty schools for sports is great for society as a whole.

+3 HS
jaxbuckeye's picture

What absurd arguments.  Seriously.  They're saying that we'll lose other sports because kids would rather play spring football, or some kids would rather play fall baseball.  So what?  That just means they like that sport better so why not give them a chance to improve and be able to compete on a national level with the other kids that are honing their craft year round?  What a ridiculous argument.  Fortunately I live in Florida so my son gets to play spring football.  News flash to these egghead know-it-alls.  He tried baseball and didn't care for it.  If not for football, he'd be doing NOTHING in the spring.  Is that what they want?  Ridiculous!  There should be spring football just like there should be fall baseball, along with any other sport for which they can get enough interest, regardless of time of year.  That's the way it is down here.  Let the kids play the sports they WANT to play, not force them into a sport because there is nothing else to do.  If there isn't enough interest to field a baseball team in the spring, so be it.

+3 HS
BGSUBucksFan's picture

Agreed.  If they offer off-season programs for the other sports as well, you will see kids who want to play those sports participate in those programs.  I do think football would probably be the most popular (it is the greatest sport known to mankind, after all), but you're providing a platform for your athletes to succeed at doing something they love to do.  If they are worried about money to keep the other programs afloat, I don't see an issue at the high school level of streaming excess funds generated from the money-making sports into all the other programs.  If they are worried about participation, I would just say if the kids want to play more than one sport, they will make it happen.  I missed basketball conditioning every year due to football, how is that concept so hard to adopt?

-2 HS
acBuckeye's picture

Just ask TSUN how good the players in Ohio are.

+1 HS
dshepster's picture

Bring it on!  Anyone that wants to make it to the college level is probably doing work arounds already.  Going to camps, etc.  My grandaughter plays in club volleyball, which is available pretty much year round, to better her skills.  No good reason not to have spring football.

-1 HS
tussey's picture

Great write up Kyle!  As much as I would like to see spring ball come to Ohio, I think that the concerns are very much valid within the smaller schools.  Ultimately, high schools are not so much worried about giving their kids an advantage if they go on to play college ball because they have seen without it kids from Ohio are producing at a high level.

+3 HS
DBell8's picture

As a former Ohio high school football player and year round athlete, I find this topic to be extremely interesting and I feel that it will be brought to the forefront in the years to come. Although i'm not 100% sure that we should have all out spring practices, i am sure that it would be beneficial to kids that have the ability to go division one.

+1 HS
DCNick's picture

I played rugby in high school. At the high school level it's only a spring sport. It's becoming more popular in Ohio with more teams drawing from single high schools. Eds and Ignatius are two of the better programs I believe. I understand why Meyer would want spring football but a lot of these guys would also improve from playing rugby. It would help them develop different skills as athletes. Rugby places greater importance cardio fitness, ball handling, wrapping when tackling, and getting low when going into contact. I know football coaches often don't want their players to get involved in rugby but I think it would help.

+2 HS
buckskin's picture

Understand both sides; I would prefer a small practice regimen that would not hinder athletes playing other spring sports (baseball or track).  Baseball and track help complement the football player; baseball with hand eye coordination and diving for balls (Fields specifically mentioned baseball when he made the diving catch against Purdue in 2012), and track to help keep players in shape and work on speed.  My freshman year in high school, we had a player that TTUN wanted badly, but in the spring of his junior year he decided to not run track, gained 50 pounds and TTUN pulled the offer (he was a receiver). 

Bosa did have an awesome 1st year, but that is more due to the player adjusting to the college game.  Ohio players such as Spielman, Katzenmoyer, Pace, and Clarrett all made huge impacts right out of high school.   

 

+1 HS
bukyze's picture

OHSAA has repeatedly shot down attempts for spring football over the years.  With Urban talking, maybe things will change.  This was brought up in an article a few years back - with all the extra practice and reps guys get during spring football, by the time they hit their junior year, they essentially have the same amount of experience as Ohio's seniors.  Essentially, having spring football adds another year of 'experience' in highschool, hence the reason why the southern schools are for the most part so far ahead of those who do not have spring practice.

Mean Mr Mustard's picture

This probably explains why some Ohio high school players are really late bloomers—Kuechly, LeVonn Bell, AJ Hawk, Nick Mangold, etc.

Ohio football players can concentrate on track, power lifting, and Olympic Style lifting in the off season.  If you live in Ohio, you have great access to some of the best S&C minds in the world.  Ohio high school coaches should take advantage of people like Jim Wendler (5/3/1) and Louie Simmons (Westside Barbell)

 

seafus26's picture

I live in Houston, TX, now. I work2 weeks at a time year round visiting drilling rigs in western PA (where I have a residence too) and eastern OH. Weather of course is far difference, but I think areas like Texas are funded much more vastly from over a century constant of OIL drilling rather just a decade of drilling in these Marcellous and Utica shakes of PA and OH of the lesser natural gas. They too could have indoor practice facilities like Texas high schools or the Buckeyes have, if they had the influx of money for last century to their school districts. However, there is nothing keeping them from having the spring league pee wee ball and the different 7 on 7 leagues across cities. None of that is funded by the state. It is all pay to play in those additional leagues. 

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

+1 HS
stubbzzz's picture

I was just going to say, i think the 7 on 7 stuff would be even more beneficial than spring football.  maybe not for linemen but for quarterbacks.  I've always felt that Ohio should be producing more top shelf quarterbacks, considering we have such smart and "the best coached players in America" as Urban says.  I feel like 7 on 7 would go along way toward waking up the sleeping giant that is Ohio quarterbacks.

seafus26's picture

Very true. Ohio is still producing many linemen. But it's evident these kids aren't throwing and catching year round. Watch Brax throw and then watch a freshman walk on at say Texas Tech that played all his youth down there. It getting to be year round like baseball and you can see every year what they produce in that. The city of Houston alone produced the first four players taken in the MLB draft a few years ago. That may have been the same year 4 QBs were taken in first round of NFL draft: Luck from Houston, RG3 from central Texas, Ryan Tannihill I believe from central Texas too, and Brandon Weedon from just across the border in Oklahoma. 

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

+1 HS
PoKeY21's picture

I think the state should look into sanctioning a 3&4 grade or 5&6 grade flag football leagues. Have 5 different regions in the state. Just something fun to do in the spring before little league in the summer. The kids could all learn the basics of football like route running, throwing, catching, coverages etc. I think if we start dragging behind these southern states in football it won't be because of 10 practices a year in highschool, it will be because the kids down south have been playing since they were 7-8 years old and the ones in Ohio don't start until 12-13.

When my time on earth is gone, and my activities here are passed, I want they bury me upside down, and my critics can kiss my ass - Robert Knight

seafus26's picture

They're playing flag and tackle in fall and spring seasons down here. Flag from kindergarten to second graders. First year of tackle is third grade

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

PoKeY21's picture

Ya, and they've been doing it for years down There too. They have leagues pop up sporadically here and there, but I think there was more tackle leagues for that age in Ohio 10 years ago than there is today. Sadly, it seems more soccer is being played at the youth level in Ohio. Then by the time they get to middle and high school the schools don't even have a soccer team. That's why I think they should have flag leagues up until the 6th grade, then let the capable 6th graders play on the 7th grade tackle team. Those are just minor changes that could really help the kids learn the basics of the game before being padded up and thrown on a field at 13. Heck most middle school coaches barely have time to teach proper tackling let alone blocking technique. It's a wonder how they get some even lined up properly.

When my time on earth is gone, and my activities here are passed, I want they bury me upside down, and my critics can kiss my ass - Robert Knight

seafus26's picture

Off subject but baseball is way different down here. The state high school tournament to wrap up the season is about to begin. And the players begin practicing for their school sanctioned summer teams, the 18 under USA Team and/or start doing work outs for MLB teams with the up coming draft. As I'm in PA every two weeks for two weeks  at a time, I won't see a single kid on their ball diamonds. Their high school season and school will still be going with no time for MLB workouts before the draft

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

PoKeY21's picture

Ya baseball is another beast entirely in the North. But baseball is something that can't be fixed by adding more practices. It's just in the North baseball only has 6 months tops it can be played. In the South it can be year round or minimum 1 month in the gym. That's a big difference and something that can't be fixed. Conversely though that's why Northern states produce more basketball and wrestling talent than the south, weather isn't a factor for those sports.

When my time on earth is gone, and my activities here are passed, I want they bury me upside down, and my critics can kiss my ass - Robert Knight

sonofsarek's picture

I am sorry, but I find it extremely difficult to believe that 10 practices in spring, 4 months away from football season, will have any significant positive impact on player development.   You will need a heck of a lot more than 10 measly practices to do anything substantial.  

seafus26's picture

Those are just the 10 sanctioned and supervised by coaches. It's gotten to be like baseball and golf down here, almost. They're playing some form of football year round.

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

Floyd Stahl's picture

Is that picture on the front page that accompanies the article Massillon's indoor practice facility? If so, that thing is insane. That facility looks like it rivals the Woody.