It’s no secret: competitive football is under attack. This attack is the result of growing fear caused by the publicity of long term and short term football brain injuries.
Last year, nationwide participation in high school football was down by nearly 10,000, according to an annual study conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Even high school football powerhouses such as Southern California’s Mater Dei High School are experiencing decreases in participation at the varsity and junior varsity levels. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, in one year Mater Dei’s football squad went from a staggering 84 freshman football players to 58.
With even the most renowned high school football programs struggling, it is no surprise that Paly currently has an unusually small varsity roster.
Varsity head coach Danny Sullivan also acknowledges concerns regarding the safety of the game have had on high school football programs. Yet, Sullivan believes this sudden fear of injury is largely unwarranted.
“The game is safer than it has ever been in its history,” Sullivan said. “The technology used to develop better helmets, shoulder pads, legs pads, etc. is at an all-time best” The bigger reason behind the Paly’s limited number of participants — revolving around a hard philosophy of commitment and teamwork — seems to be unique to Paly.
“I think that a new culture of being committed to every aspect [of the game] is something that we are preaching as a coaching staff and making sure that communication is a main focus,” said Danny Sullivan, varsity head coach. “It is important for our players to fight through adversity as a team and problem solve together, rather than putting the focus on one single person to be able to propel the team forward towards success.” Sullivan said.
Sullivan believes this new philosophy may have caused some players to leave the program.
Last year, Paly had an unusually large roster; however, looking back to the 2009 and 2010 seasons, (Paly football’s glory years), the team size was consistently around 45 people as opposed to Paly’s current 34 man roster. The obvious goal for Paly’s program is to get back to its former glory. It seems that a high roster number is necessary to do so.
“We will no doubt have higher numbers on our varsity team in the future,” Sullivan said. “Asking around this summer, we apparently had our highest number of freshman sign-ups ever for the program. If things go according to plan, we should have around 45 [players] or more on varsity next season.”
As for the remainder of this season, Paly will likely continue to struggle with the new offensive scheme, young quarterback and fewer players.
“The lack of depth has made practice a little more challenging,” Sullivan said. “We are asking guys to do some things to help out the team that they normally wouldn’t do. In games, we have found ways to have success in areas that we thought we wouldn’t” Sullivan said.
Additionally, Sullivan is noticing major improvement on a week to week basis despite the many hurdles the team faces.
“Whether someone wants to believe it or not, we have got significantly better as a team, from game to game, during our first 4 games.” Sullivan said. “Our defense has played extremely well during the first four games, but the scores don’t indicate that necessarily because they have been put in some horrible situations in games.”
It still seems doubtful that the Vikes will be able to salvage a winning season this year. However, the weekly improvements will likely start influencing the scoreboard in a positive manner.
All in all, nationwide participation in football is down mostly due to the large amounts of publicity around serious injury. However, it seems that Paly’s struggles with roster size are at least partially unrelated to concussions. Paly may have to wait until it’s returns to its day’s of domination, but hopefully next year’s anticipated roster increase will point them in the right direction. As for high school football as a whole, the solution is far more complex, and likely includes the continuation of measures to make the game even safer.