Liberty Hill Youth Football to focus on new tackling technique to reduce risk of head injuries

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A couple of young Panthers run a tackling dummy across the field during last year’s camp. This year, the camp’s focus will be on teaching the players “shoulder tackling,” a new technique used to reduce the likelihood of head injuries. (Courtesy Photo)

A couple of young Panthers run a tackling dummy across the field during last year’s camp. This year, the camp’s focus will be on teaching the players “shoulder tackling,” a new technique used to reduce the likelihood of head injuries. (Courtesy Photo)

By KEITH SPARKS

At Liberty Hill Youth Football’s camp this summer, Shawn Lapuszynski, Commissioner of the Hill Country Youth Football League (HCYFL) and the Vice President of Football for Liberty Hill Youth Football and Cheer (LHYFC) will have the opportunity to teach Liberty Hill’s young players a new style of tackling.

The new tackling technique, according to Lapuszynski, has been implemented across the United States as a way to combat the head injuries that have plagued football players for so long.

“Really, who came out with it first was the Seattle Seahawks, who called it hawk tackling,” Lapuszynski said. “It’s a rugby-style tackle is what it is. Of course, they don’t have headgear, so they try not to use their heads when they tackle. They use a completely different technique.”

According to Lapuszynski, the Seattle Seahawks, the NFL, USA Football, and the United States Rugby Association got together to “homogenize all the terms and techniques so that it could be taught universally.” Lapuszynski and Gerald Lorance, President of LHYFC, learned about the new technique, which is now being referred to as “shoulder tackling,” at the 2017 USA Football Conference in Orlando, Florida.

The technique will be taught throughout the HCYFL this season, after each of the coaches undergoes training this summer, in hopes of eventually replacing the techniques that are currently taught by most programs throughout the country. The HCYFL includes programs from Liberty Hill, Burnet, Lampasas, Marble Falls, Smithson Valley, Llano, Canyon Lake, Fredericksburg, among others.

The HCYFL’s divisions are separated by age groups, with the youngest division including kindergarten through second grade. Third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade each have their own divisions, although birthday restrictions may require some players to compete at a higher grade level for safety reasons.

The “freshman” division, which includes kindergarten through second grade, abides by a set of rules that allow only eight players on each side of the ball, and require a coach to be on the field for both the offense and defense, using a hands-on approach to coach the kids up close through each and every play. There are also restrictions placed on the defense and special teams to promote individual improvement at each position and improve safety.

“They’re really learning just the basics of football,” Lapuszynski said of the freshman division. “It’s very instructional and very fundamental. There’s a lot of restrictions on the defensive side, because you want to allow plays to develop. You don’t want some of these kids to line up and just shut down a play, because it takes a little longer for the plays to develop at a younger age. It’s structured to really force the coaches to teach the kids to play positions, to use technique, and allow things to develop to where every player has to play their position and learn their technique.”

The “junior varsity” divisions, which are separated by third and fourth grade, and the “varsity” divisions, separated by fifth and sixth grade, allow a full 11-on-11 game, and are played by UIL rules, which are identical to the junior high and high school’s. The only difference in the HCYFL is that extra points are worth two points, and what would normally be considered a two-point conversion is worth one point, which is done to encourage the development of kickers.

The objective of the league is to develop players at a young age in each of the cities’ respective systems. For example, the LHYFC runs the same Slot-T offense that the high school program has prided itself on since former Head Coach and Athletic Director Jerry Vance’s arrival in 2001.

According to Lapuszynski, the shift from Vance to Liberty Hill’s new Head Football Coach and Athletic Director Jeff Walker won’t bring many changes to how they operate, considering he will run the exact same offensive system. The only changes they’ll see will take place on the defensive side of the ball, as the league will begin to implement the same changes that the high school will see with new Defensive Coordinator Kent Walker.

“His system is pretty much exactly what we’ve been running, only faster,” Lapuszynski said of Jeff Walker’s offense. “His is fast, I mean really fast. He’s a great motivator, and he’s been really good to us—a total open door. He’s a great coach and a great man, and we’re definitely appreciative of him.”

Bringing young football players up in that system allows them to get a head start on the competition when they begin playing at the junior high. According to Lapuszynski, it has paid huge dividends at the junior high level, and the junior high and high school coaches have consistently given Lapuszynski, Lorance, and the rest of the LHYFC staff their gratitude.

“(Walker) thanks us all the time for developing the kids,” Lapuszynski said. “Whenever we send in our kids to the junior high that have been trained in the system, it helps the coaches. When they have kids that can go in and actually demonstrate the system—every detail, what we call things—I’ve taken great care in making sure that everything, even adding this new defense, I want to make sure that everything we do will prepare the kids and not confuse them. All the terminology is on point. Everything we do we make sure is on point, so that we can give our kids the best chance for success.”

Registration for LHYFC is now open for both football and cheer, and will remain open until June 10. Discounted pricing applies until the end of May, and will increase for late registration between June 1-10.

Uniform fittings will take place on May 13 and June 10 at Life Springs Christian Church, and Football Camp will be at the LHYFC Field on CR 200 from July 24-28. The first official practice for LHYFC begins July 31.

Sports@LHIndependent.com

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