Heads Up Tour Extra: Pa. champs use Heads Up Football to improve

By Melanie Pimentel, NFL Media associate producer

PHILADELPHIA -- They may be Pennsylvania state champions, but the St Joseph's High School Hawks are still trying to improve. On a recent hot afternoon in Philadelphia, the high school football team was hard at work.

"We possess the 2013 trophy, we don't possess the 2014 trophy," said coach Gabe Infante. "The 2014 trophy is up for grabs and we have to go after it like everybody else."

Last season, the Hawks made history by bringing home the 4A State Championship and under Infante's leadership. They did so while they were one of the country's first 35 high schools to adopt the Heads Up Football program.

Infante's program was the focus of the second stop in NFL Media's "Heads Up Football Across America" tour on Tuesday. The Heads Up tour continues through Friday, when it ends in Canton, Ohio, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame festivities.

From tackling skills and proper equipment fitting to concussion awareness and hydration education, the Heads Up program is not only designed to provide players with football fundamentals but also to educate parents -- which is crucial to Infante.

"There's an epidemic and whenever you're dealing with an epidemic the best way to deal with it is education," he said. "Engaging parents in meaningful dialog. Engaging them and having them ask questions and really showing them how to protect their son in the process I think is a major positive of the program."

As a defensive coach, Infante finds a refocusing on the fundamentals of tackling as a key component to his team's success.

"We focus on all the aspects of making that front shoulder contact and we break down tackling into a progression," he said earlier this month. "So, everything begins and starts with us with the fundamentals of the game.

"We have to be able to tackle to play great defense, you can't win a championship without a great defense."

But not all high schools are created equal and, for some, funding doesn't come easy, including have enough money for proper safety equipment and medical support. As a Master Trainer for Heads Up Football, Infante travels the country to hold clinics and teach youth coaches about the program.

This allows him the opportunity to see areas where the program can develop.

"The feedback I get from the grassroots, from the ground level (is) we need more funding for equipment, we need more help for funding for medical support," he said. "I'd like to see us expand to cover those issues. I would love to see the NFL -- I would love to see our politicians -- get involved with figuring out how we solve those issues."

But for now Infante and his Hawks are focused on the 2014 season.

"We've got strong leadership, a lot of experience," he said. "I'm cautiously optimistic about our chances (this season)."

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