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High school football: Game experienced major changes since current crop of seniors born in 2000
More pass-happy offense, better player safety two of the biggest changes
Football 2000
A Gainesville High player is brought down by the face mask by a South Forsyth defender during a 2000 game at City Park Stadium in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers| The Times
On its face, high school football has drastically changed since the turn of the century.

Gone are the days of teams lining up under center with a fullback and two tight ends, passing only when the situation was dire enough. The advent of the spread offense placed a greater emphasis on passing, points and panache, which has revolutionized the game in its wake.

For today’s crop of high school football players, most of whom were born in 2000 or later, this is the only version of football they’ve ever known — an up-tempo game that at times more closely resembles a track race than a traditional football slugfest.

And that’s only what has transpired on the surface.

High school football has undergone seismic shifts in the last 17 years, with some of the more pronounced changes occurring off the field. Improved technology has been at the forefront of football’s transformation, altering everything from safety to information-gathering to how the game itself is played.

“Technology is changing the game, even for us as high school coaches,” Gainesville High coach Bruce Miller said. “It used to be just for those guys up at the pro and college levels; now it’s changing for us. You’ve almost got to have young guys on your staff to keep up with that stuff.
“You’ve got to embrace it, or the game is going to pass you by.”

First and foremost, player safety has never been a bigger concern. The specter of concussions has loomed over football for several years now, and the GHSA has responded by passing down mandates to decrease the risk of head injuries.

“We have some stipulations in play regarding practicing in the heat to the amount of contact we can expose our kids to in a week’s practice,” Johnson High coach Jason Roquemore said. “All those things have changed the game.”

Such rules take effect behind the scene, but some coaches believe the heightened concern for safety can be traced to Friday nights.
New studies and research about concussions have resulted in stricter guidelines and harsher penalties for targeting, the infraction that occurs when a player is ruled to have intentionally made contact with an opponent’s head.

The rule applies mostly to defensive players in the process of tackling, which many see as an advantage bestowed upon offenses.

“Ultimately the safety of the kids is very important,” Chestatee High coach Shaun Conley said. “I think that, too, those changes have helped with the evolution of where we’re at now with all the spread stuff. Concussions alone, all the protocol and awareness now, has probably changed the game as much as anything.”

While coaches must always keep an eye on the safety of their players, their primary task is still to put those players in the best position to win football games.

The rapid advancement of technology has made that challenge exponentially easier as it relates to gathering information and presenting it to players.

Not long ago, coaches had to drive, sometimes for hours, to meet with their upcoming opponents to exchange film. Now the majority of swapping is done through a website called Hudl that also allows for enhanced video review.

“I think the advent of technology and social media have kind of been game-changers in terms of information that’s available to you and what’s going on at other programs,” Buford High coach John Ford said.

“It’s easier to get film of other teams because you can just shoot things through Hudl and talk to people on Twitter and stuff like that. Everything feels more wide open, both on the field and off the field, than it used to.”

Football 2000
An East Hall player is tackled during a 2000 game in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

Those huge leaps in film study don’t stop with routine pregame scouting.

Local teams have quickly adapted to instant replay systems on the sidelines during games. Many schools provide this in-game instruction via tablets, a common sight during NFL games, while Chestatee gathers its players around a large TV in between series.

“Ten years ago, you’re giving a kid feedback on the following Monday because there’s no way to watch the film during the game,” Roquemore said. “I think coaches have done a really good job of maximizing the technology to enhance the feedback that we can give our players, which in turn has made the game better.”

Not only does sideline replay give coaches an invaluable tool, it’s emblematic of a shift in how football is taught. Because members of the younger generation are so in tune with social media and video, technology has become a more efficient teaching tool for most of them.
Conley said a lecture during an Atlanta Falcons coaching clinic touched on the subject, and others in his profession are adjusting to the
tendencies of their plugged-in players.

“Kids’ attention spans, they think in quicker, shorter bursts now,” East Hall High coach Bryan Gray said. “So I think it’s important to coach nonstop, on fire, keep moving from drill to drill quickly to keep their focus … The faster pace of the game has forced coaches to adopt a faster pace of practice.”

Where that faster pace came from is pretty obvious to those who have overseen its creep into the high school game for the last 17 years.
Coaches point to a trickle-down from the college ranks, which have become populated almost entirely by spread teams over the past two decades. Their players, meanwhile, have gotten bigger, faster and stronger thanks to strides in strength and conditioning training.

But for how much football has advanced since 2000, coaches still maintain the core values of the game have not changed.

Nor has the way they run their programs. The safety and development of players remain at the forefront of every team, even if the game they play doesn’t look all that much like it did 17 years ago.

“You don’t have to be a genius to coach. You have to be good at building relationships, good at getting a group of guys from different backgrounds to come together with the same goal,” Conley said. “ ... You can do that by building relationships and loving on them and caring about them.

“Those things haven’t changed. I don’t think those things ever will change.”

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