Terry O'Neil urges coaches to cut back on practice contact

Terry O'Neil is trying to convince high school football programs to "Practice Like Pros."

The former New Orleans Saints executive, who has created an organization of the same name, took his message to the masses Saturday. His seminar in Worcester, Mass., urged high school coaches to cut down on full-contact practices, the Worcester Telegram reported.

Dartmouth College coach Buddy Teevens and neurological surgeon Dr. Robert Cantu joined O'Neil and attempted to show spectators -- most of them high school football coaches - why practicing with full contact was detrimental to young brains, while presenting alternative practice techniques for coaches.

"We need to teach these high school players and coaches to practice like pros," O'Neil said.

After his quiz, and a brief description of Practice Like Pros, O'Neil introduced Cantu, calling the doctor "the gold standard in this subject of medicine."

Cantu, the co-director for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University, discussed his concern for the amount of head trauma high school football players suffer. That concern, he said, stems from the fact that young brains are more susceptible to trauma than adult brains.

He pushed a concept that he and his colleagues at the Sports Legacy Institute have toyed with -- instituting a hit count into high school football, similar to pitch counts for high school baseball pitchers.

O'Neil is trying to draw more funding for his project. As it stands, the presentation made an impression on many of the coaches who were in attendance.

"It was very enlightening for me because as a first-year coach, I was wondering how I could get my players to understand the fundamentals of football, and one of the big things is teaching kids how to block and tackle properly," said Devin Dwyer, freshman football coach at RHAM High in Hebron, Conn. "Following some of the drills that were shown by Teevens, I would be able to safely teach them as well as teach them the right way to do it."

O'Neil showed a video made by Stanford football coach David Shaw. O'Neil had contacted Shaw asking for a video of his practices, which are run in a way that reduces violence as much as possible.

Shaw obliged and put together a video similar to that of Teevens, showing many of Stanford's nearly contact-free drills.

The seminar made a positive impression on many of the attendees.

"I think it's fantastic," said Steve Dembowski, Swampscott High coach and a Massachusetts Football Coaches Association executive board member. "Now we can show some of that video to our players and get something out of it. We just have to keep providing this information to the coaches, even down to the youth coaches."