Mark Stephens

One of the areas the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has focused on recently to decrease injuries to players has been on the kickoff.

For the last two years there must be at least four players on each side of the kicker, and members of the kicking team must line up less than 5 yards behind the kicking line (usually the 40-yard line) which has the effect of decreasing congestion and player speed when they make contact with the receiving team.

In addition, the kicking team members may not initiate contact with the receiving team in the 10-yard zone, known as the neutral zone, after the kick and until it is possessed, thus decreasing the chance of injury to a receiving player who is concentrating on recovering the ball and not on the kicking team running toward him or her.

This season, the NFHS rules committee focused on the “pop up” kick, a situation where the kicker drives the ball into the ground causing it to pop up into the air higher than the heads of the players on its first bounce. When observed, officials will blow the play dead immediately and assess a 5-yard penalty against the kicking team before rekicking. High pooch kicks, drop kicks, and kicks that bounce low several times then bounce higher are still legal. Also, to better cover the action during a kickoff on Friday nights, you will notice one official covering the kick off line (usually the 40), and two officials at the receiving team’s restriction line (usually the 50) when there is a five-person officiating crew.

One final item for this week is related to tooth guards. It seems there are manufacturers who are producing tooth guards with sharp teeth or fang designs on the tooth guard. The NFHS and OSAA have deemed this equipment illegal, along with any other advertising or messages that might be on the tooth guard surface. For now, as we get a handle on this situation, the OSAA has asked that when observed, that player and team be noted and reported to the OSAA for follow up action. Coaches and parents must make sure that participants in football have adequate mouth protection that conforms to this rule.

Mark Stephens is a member of the Southwestern Oregon Football Officials Association.