SAN DIEGO – For the fifth straight year, high school football player numbers have dropped in the state of California.
The National Federation of State High School Associations released new numbers Monday that show the amount of players continue to drop nationally, too, with about 31,000 fewer kids playing in 2019.
This comes during the same week that star NFL quarterback Andrew Luck suddenly announced his retirement from the NFL at the age of 29, potentially walking away from hundreds of millions of dollars. He cited constant injury issues.
“I was shocked,” said Clairemont High School Football Coach Desmond Rose. His team had to forfeit its first game of the season because they didn’t have enough players eligible to play.
“They were heartbroken, as were all of us. They worked hard over the summer and they wanted to play," Rose said.
Despite the growing number of kids walking away from the sport, Rose said it is more a reflection of bad grades at the school preventing kids from being eligible. Other parents at Clairemont High's practice Monday admit the Luck announcement was surprising and attention-grabbing.
“My kid tells me he’s in pain from playing football,” said Summer Madriaga, whose kid plays for Clairemont High. “But they’re teaching them different now.”
She said that just in the past few years, coaches have started changing up the way they coach. Opting for heads-up tackling is an alternative way that prevents head injuries.
“We are dictating space, accelerating and using shoulders as opposed to the head,” said Freddy Keiaho, former San Diego State Aztec and Indianapolis Colt player. Keiaho now works with an organization called Tip of the Spear, which teaches kids to tackle "through hips and through your hands, and that’s important.”
Rose says they’re teaching something similar at Clairemont High.
“Oh man, this game is so much safer,” he said. “I actually had two coaches on this staff that went to Clairemont when they were in high school and they say they don’t even recognize the game.”