George Guido: High school football gets new blocking rule

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Saturday, July 24, 2021 | 3:55 PM


We’re a little more than a month away from the start of the Alle-Kiski Valley’s 124th football season, and a major change in the blocking-below-the-waist rule will be implemented nationwide this season.

Now, a block by an offensive lineman below the waist must be immediate following the snap. In other words, a lineman can no longer jostle with the defender for a few seconds then decide to block below the waist.

Also, this must occur in what’s called the free-blocking zone — that’s a rectangular area extending laterally 4 yards on either side of the ball and 3 yards behind each side’s line of scrimmage.

Downfield blocking below the waist remains a violation.

The rules change was recommended by the National Federation of State High School Associations — better known as the NFHS — at its annual rules parley from Jan. 10-12. The NFHS Board of Directors subsequently approved the change in its ongoing effort to minimize injury risk in high school football.

“This change makes it easier for game officials to judge the legality of blocks below the waist and minimize the risk of injury for the participants,” said Bob Colgate, NFHS director of sports and sports medicine and liaison to the football rules committee. “This change lets game officials observe the block and make a call without having to determine where the ball is and what formation the offense lined up in.”

While the intentional grounding rule hasn’t been changed, it will be a point of emphasis this season.

Due to the prevalence of football on TV, one of the most misunderstood rules in high school ball is intentional grounding. Under the NFHS rulebook, intentional grounding is a penalty whenever a legal forward pass is thrown into an area not occupied by an eligible receiver, or when a pass is thrown to prevent a loss of yardage or to conserve time.

The only exception is when a passer intentionally throws the ball forward to the ground — i.e. spikes it — immediately after the snap.

Under NFHS rules, it is a penalty if there was no eligible receiver in the area of the pass, no matter where the passer is on the field. It often seen where a quarterback outside the pocket throws the ball away to avoid a sack, thinking it’s legal based on what’s seen on television.

Officials have been advised to gather and discuss the play before a penalty flag is thrown.

Rocco coaching success

The Rocco family coaching regime is in its seventh decade of success.

Danny Rocco, 1979 Fox Chapel High School graduate and University of Delaware coach, was named American Football Coaches Association Region I Coach of the Year recently.

Rocco led the Blue Hens to a 5-0 record to win the Colonial Athletic Conference this past spring, and the team finished 7-1 after advancing to the national playoff semifinals before losing to South Dakota Sate.

The FCS season was canceled last fall due to the pandemic, and the group played a spring schedule in 2021.

But a Rocco getting coaching honors is nothing new.

His father, Ellwood City native Frank Rocco Sr., coached the Foxes from 1972-79, coming over after a few stops in the 1960s in Eastern Pennsylvania. He led the Fox Chapel to the 1977 West Penn Conference title with his son, Frank Jr., as quarterback. Danny Rocco was a running back and safety on the team.

Frank Jr. later played at Penn State before embarking on a successful coaching career that has amassed over 200 victories. His tenure included stops at Pine-Richland, Highlands and Shaler.

Danny was the head coach at Liberty and Richmond before coming to Delaware in 2017.

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