Area high schools football coaches addressing head injuries

Coaches from around Section II participating in national program.
Dozens of Section II schools have adopted the USA Football's Heads Up Coaching Education Program, which teaches proper blocking and tackling techniques designed to reduce injuries.
Dozens of Section II schools have adopted the USA Football's Heads Up Coaching Education Program, which teaches proper blocking and tackling techniques designed to reduce injuries.

Dozens of Section II schools have given a thumbs up to USA Football’s Heads Up Coaching Education Program that was endorsed back in May by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.

“We had a trainer in at Shenendehowa two weeks ago, and I’d say between 30 to 40 coaches from Section II were there,” said Gary VanDerzee, the NYSPHSAA football coordinator and varsity coach at Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk. “They got trained, and the player-safety reps will go back to their schools to instruct their staffs.”

Introduced in 2012 by the National Football League’s youth development branch, USA Football, the Heads Up program covers several facets of player safety with a heavy emphasis on tackling and blocking techniques. Players are taught to keep their heads up and lead with their shoulders when performing those skills.

“We want to reassure the public that we are aware of concussions, and we are actively trying to prevent that from happening,” VanDerzee said. “This is another step to ensure the safety of the kids.”

The NYSPHSAA Executive Committee officially endorsed the Heads Up program at its May 6 meeting in Troy. The NYSPHSAA Safety Committee and NYSPHSAA Football Committee, which VanDerzee leads, gave their support before the executive committee’s approval.

“We’re excited about it. It furthers our effort to minimize risk in football,” NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas said. “I attended a national conference in Indiana in March, and heard presentations from top researchers in the country. They showed statistics that associations that worked with Heads Up had less injuries.

“It’s not mandated but endorsed. We think it’s a good thing.”

VanDerzee said the program reinforces some things coaches already know, while adding new insight and information.

“We’ve got an established organization saying, ‘This is how we do it. These are things we look for,’ ” VanDerzee said.

Cobleskill-Richmondville varsity coach Ed Hantho was among the Section II representatives at the get-together, which also included those from Gloversville, Johnstown, Ballston Spa, Fonda-Fultonville, Lansingburgh, Voorheesville, Schuylerville and Christian Brothers Academy.

“Ninety percent is what I have been doing and what other coaches have been doing, but they threw in a couple of twists,” Hantho said. “They provided a lot of information.”

According to the USA Football website, in 2015 more than 1,100 high schools joined 6,500 youth organizations in signing up for Heads Up Football. The program is sponsored by the NCAA, the American Football Coaches Association, the NFL Alumni Association, ESPN and MaxPreps, among other entities.

“Each [high school] program will send an individual for training, and that individual will train the rest of their staff,” Zayas said. “You’re never going to eliminate risk in any sport, but you can minimize risk through coaching education.”

VanDerzee said Schenectady, Schalmont. Colonie, Shaker, Shenendehowa, Hoosic Valley, Coxsackie-Athens and Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk were among the other schools that had coaches at the recent teach-and-learn session.

“Gary told us what was going on and recommended it,” Hantho said. “There was great representation from Section II.”

Maine-Endwell head coach Matt Gallagher, whose teams won four state titles from 2011-14 and set a state record with 62 consecutive victories from 2011-15, represented Heads Up.

“We talked and watched film,” Hantho said. “We went out on the field and did some tackling. It was a good clinic.”

Gallagher is a USA Football Master Trainer and a U.S. National Team coach. Master Trainers, according to the USA Football website, include some of the best high school coaches in the United States along with college coaches and former NFL players. They are identified in part because of their success on the field, but they are hired because they are teachers who share a passion for playing the game correctly.

Aside from tackling and blocking, Heads Up offers instruction in concussion recognition and response, heat preparedness and hydration, sudden cardiac arrest protocols, and proper helmet and shoulder pad fitting.

“It’s safety,” VanDerzee said. “They run the whole gamut.”



Cohoes announced recently that it will not field a varsity football team this fall because it does not have enough suitable players, which has left a hole in the Section II Class B North Division schedule.

“This decision was not made lightly,” Cohoes athletic director Tom Kostrzebski said. “Careful consideration for our athletes’ safety and the physical demands of performing on the varsity level was taken into account.”

Kostrzebski recommended to the district’s athletic committee that Cohoes run a modified and junior varsity program only in the upcoming school year, which it will do. Cohoes has not had a JV team the last three years as a preparation step for its varsity.

“With only 14 potential upperclassmen (11 seniors, three juniors) on the roster, there would be a team largely made up of younger players with minimal high school football experience,” Kostrzebski said. “This was a concern.”

Cohoes was scheduled to compete in the Class B North Division against Broadalbin-Perth, Hudson Falls, Glens Falls, Johnstown and Schuylerville after season-starting crossover games against Reinfurt Division teams Cobleskill-Richmondville and Ichabod Crane. Those teams will look to fill their open dates with non-league games.

Cohoes did not have a varsity team from 1961-66 and again from 1979-87. The Tigers logged an 0-9 record last season but went 5-4 in 2014 and 6-3 in 2013.

Bishop Maginn earlier this year also opted not to field a varsity football team due to low numbers.



Five-year National Football League lineman and Super Bowl participant Joe Cocozzo will be among the first class inducted into the Mechanicville Athletic Hall of Fame in October.

The hall’s inaugural group will also include the Red Raiders’ famed “Whiz Kids” basketball team that won sectional Class B titles in 1952 and 1953, its late coach, Bill Kalbaugh, and one of its star players, the late Rev. Dan Nolan from the Class of 1954.

Cocozzo played five seasons with the San Diego Chargers and started in Super Bowl XXIX, which they lost to the San Francisco 49ers. He was drafted by San Diego in 1993 after a superb career at Michigan, where he started 32 of his last 33 games, and as a senior earned All-Big Ten and All-American honors.

Cocozzo was an all-state selection while at Mechanicville and helped the Red Raiders win two league titles and a sectional championship. He was inducted into the Capital Region Hall of Fame in 2010 and had his No. 77 Mechanicville jersey retired by the school in 2013.

The first Mechanicville Athletic Hall of Fame class will also include athletes Nick Perrotta (1944 graduate), the late Raymond Waldron (1950), Chris Tironi (1983), Jenny Sparano (1990), Kevin Ferrone (2000) and Abby Arceneaux (2002), coaches Don Arceneaux, Mike Martone, Dick Stipano and the late Ted Weigle, and contributors Chris Sgambati and Anthony “Taw” Anatriello.

The Oct. 15 induction ceremony will take place at the Mechanicville-Stillwater Elks Lodge.

Categories: High School Sports, News, Sports

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