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Local football teams adjust to new IHSA practice rules

Tony Ramos begins warm ups with his teammates Wednesday at the start of DeKalb's 
first practice of the season.
Tony Ramos begins warm ups with his teammates Wednesday at the start of DeKalb's first practice of the season.

Sycamore coach Joe Ryan has led his football team to the playoffs five out of the past six years, and for a coach who has built a program of consistency, any alterations are a bit of a pain.

High school football teams around the state kicked off the 2013 season with the official start of practice on Wednesday, but they had to keep in mind the newest rule in the ever-changing landscape of the sport: the acclimatization period.

“We used to practice as much as we want, but now that’s changed,” Ryan said. “No one really likes change, especially if you feel like what you’re doing works.”

That change comes in the form of regulations on practice times and the amount of gear in which players can practice over the first 14 calendar days. The first two days are done with only helmets, followed by  three days of helmets and shoulder pads, and then full pads after that.

Teams are allowed three hours of practice from Wednesday through Saturday, but in the following week, practice limits alternate between three and five hours. No practice is allowed on Sunday.

With the efforts made recently to improve player safety, DeKalb head coach Matt Weckler was not surprised by the changes.

“I kind of anticipated it coming, based on what I know about the [similar NCAA acclimatization] rules in place,” Weckler said. “In hindsight, I think it’s a good idea for what they’re trying to do and accomplish.”

The schedule was enacted by the IHSA in an effort to reduce three major types of heat illness: cramps, exhaustion and stroke. By giving players more time to adjust to practicing in the summer heat, the hope is that player health will improve.

Under the new policy, players that are injured or join the team late are at a bit of a disadvantage. Should a player begin practicing later than the third day, he is deemed ineligible for the first game of the season.

The schedule is a change that requires all coaches to make adjustments. As a result, coaches have made a conscious effort to utilize the allowed contact hours before the official start of practice.

Hiawatha coach Sean Donnelly has been making the most of his video sessions and walkthroughs so that practice can be strictly business.

"There's going to be absolutely no classroom time during practice," he said. "That needs to be taken care of earlier so that we can get down to work."

The responsibility of monitoring adherence to the practice rules is left up to the schools; the IHSA will not be keeping track. However, the IHSA urges anyone who notices that a school is not following the rules to contact the IHSA office.

Although Weckler said he hasn’t felt affected by the rule changes too much, Ryan has been. He is entering his 10th season as the coach of the Spartans, and now that his system requires adjustments, he’s also trying to fill the lost practice time with film sessions and more elaborate walkthroughs.

While Ryan hopes that the rule proves to be worthwhile, it will not be seen until the 14th day is completed.

“When these things get put into play,” he said, “you don’t know what the outcome’s going to be until it happens.”

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