Q & A: Hernandez on no-helmets football

Kapolei head coach Darren Hernandez taped his knuckles the way that one of his mentors did. Photo by Darryl Oumi.
Kapolei head coach Darren Hernandez taped his knuckles the way that one of his mentors did. Photo by Darryl Oumi.

Early this morning, Kapolei football coach Darren Hernandez posted a link to this ThinkProgress.org story about a 7-man semi-pro football league on the Eastern seaboard. After taking a look at the league’s highlight video and reading about its relative success in terms of head injuries and trauma, Coach Hernandez shared his reaction: “Where my beloved sport of football may be headed in the near future. The action is better than I thought it would be. Thoughts?”

I reached him soon after and we had a Q&A via text.  

Hawaii Prep World: Coach I saw your FaceBook post on that 7-man football league. Fascinating.

Darren Hernandez: Hey Paul. I saw this on my Twitter feed and initially thought it was yet another article attacking football. I have been playing or coaching football EVERY year since I was 8 years old (that’s 44 years!) so you know I love the game! But this article really got me thinking and I could see this type of football being palatable to the concussion awareness crowd, and when it comes down to it, it is the cries from the experts that will really end up changing the game.

HPW: This league is actually expanding across the East Coast. Players are saying they are using proper form and technique because no helmets are allowed. Your thoughts?

DH: In 1994 I played in the now defunct touch tackle league (I was a 245 pound DE and we won the championship btw) but we played with no pads and there was a lot of contact and it was fun and we could touch or tackle.

HPW: Makes sense because tackle football at the park when I was a kid was good fun. My first reaction to the video was that this feels like rugby, a sport that has plenty of collisions and injuries. But there’s much less head injury in rugby and this 7-man league. Do you envision a world where high school football becomes something like this?

DH: There is no doubt that football is under assault I will probably no longer be coaching when this type of change occurs, but it could be something that could be coming. The action is still there and as long as you have a mouthpiece it looks pretty legit. I like this way better than flag or 7-on-7 touch football because that seems too fake.

Another aspect is that with this game, speed becomes a factor so the need for 300+ lineman is diminished which also means that larger players would significantly reduce the risks of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, etc down the road, just like the concerns of CTE
That could also play into the healthier and safer aspects of the game 

HPW: I’ve thought for awhile that football as we love and know it may not exist in 10 or 20 years. Does the sport need to be saved before insurance rates explode? Is there anything huge going on at the administrative/litigation level yet that could doom the sport at the prep level?

DH: Not sure about the whole administrative level stuff, but the Ivy League has gone to no-contact practices until game days to alleviate concussions and last season we practiced with no pads for most of the year and this year, since June Jones is such a proponent of practicing without contact  so we are going to look at cutting back on full pads contact and practices even more.

HPW: Is Coach June locked in now as your OC?

DH: Yes sir, we are having meetings 3X per week.

HPW: I guess I could ask more about that since so many of us are fans of JJ. Hate to take up any more of your time so I’ll ask just one: what will be different about Kapolei’s offense, practice time, preparation for coaches, even the culture, with JJ there? 

DH: Our practices will be more teaching and learning speeds in some specific segments with a lot of full speed competitive activity during position specific and group drills similar to the A7FL league highlights but with less full contact. Full pads will probably be just once a week.

JJ was ahead of the curve in college and the NFL in not practicing full contact or bringing guys to the ground to avoid injury.

HPW: Thank you so much for your time and thoughts, Coach Darren.

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