All plays except the kickoff start with a “snap,” which is the action of handing or passing the ball backward from its position on the ground. The snap must be a quick and continuous backward motion which immediately leaves the snapper’s hands, and ends when the ball touches the ground or another player.
After the referee blows his ready for play whistle and the snapper puts his hand(s) on the ball, no player may enter the neutral zone (the distance end to end of the ball) until the ball is moved to start the snap. Entering the neutral zone before the snap is known as “offside” or encroachment, which causes the play to be immediately blown dead and the offending team is penalized 5 yards.
In years past, if the snapper was slow in completing his snap to the quarterback or punter, it was legal for a quick reacting defensive lineman to swat the ball or the snapper’s hands once the ball moved. This often disrupted the completion of the snap and caused a loose ball (fumble) with a huge pile of players attempting to control the ball. This year, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) added two new aspects to the encroachment rule. Now it is encroachment and an immediate dead ball if a defensive player makes contact either with the ball or the snapper’s hands/arms before the snapper releases the ball to complete the snap. Officials have their eyes on the neutral zone and action during the snap on every play.
Another rule change this year is related to the definition of pass interference. In previous years, it was illegal for a player to intentionally attempt to block the receiver’s view of the ball by raising or waving his hands in the receiver’s face. This action was often called face guarding. This year, as long as there is not contact, face guarding is no longer a penalty and considered a legal way to defend on a pass play.
Finally, this season the NFHS added a rule that only pertains to the last two minutes of a half or the game. Prior to this year, at the end of a half with the clock running, it was possible for a team to use up extra time by committing a foul that once administered called for a new 25-second play clock and then the game clock was again started on the ready for play whistle. If a team did this twice, they could possibly use up over a minute of the game clock without snapping the ball. Now when a penalty is accepted within these two minutes, the offended team is given the option to start the clock on the snap. This was a “loophole” that definitely needed to be eliminated to maintain the spirit of the game.