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Assistant coach defends helmet-to-helmet hit that fractures 11-year-old’s vertebrae

Ben Rohrbach
Prep Rally

Everyone can agree this helmet-to-helmet hit that fractured an 11-year-old Texas youth football player's vertebrae has no place in youth football, right? Well, not everyone.

Friendswood Bronco Blue (Friendswood, Tex.) running back Anthony Benavides lost consciousness after an opposing player plunged the crown of his helmet into Benavides' noggin shield.

"He has a fractured vertebrae," one Bronco Blue parent, Joel Nelson, told KHOU 11 News in its detailed report. "It could've been a broken back. Is that what they're waiting for? I'm not sure. I've shown that hit to 100 people. Not one of them has said it's a clean hit."

But Nelson must not have shown it to any of the game's three officials -- none of whom threw a flag on the play -- or the opposing Senior Bay Area Texans assistant coach who actually defended the hit, telling KHOU 11 News that all people want to do is "change the culture that's been going on for 100 years." Um, yes, that's precisely what is happening.

If 11-year-olds getting their vertebrae shattered is the culture, shouldn't that change?

As former Houston Texans defensive tackle Seth Payne told the news station, "It was what would've been five years ago considered a great clean hit, but the rules and the standards have changed for the better. I was a guy, I was not a fan of these changes. Now I understand what it means to kids." At least somebody gets it.

After a slew of complaints from Bronco Blue parents since the Sept. 21 incident, the South Texas Youth Football Association addressed the matter in a statement to KHOU 11 News.

  • 1. The STYFA issued "a formal prohibitory warning" against the youth who delivered the hit, which doesn't exactly deal with where he learned this behavior.
  • 2. The organization encouraged teams to "secure a fourth referee," which means a penalty might be called but doesn't actually prevent such devastating hits.
  • 3. A "reemphasis of proper tackling form" and sportsmanship, which likely has little effect on assistant coaches who defend the smashing of a child's vertebrae.
  • 4. "All STYFA coaches will be required to be certified with USA Football/Heads Up tackling." Now, there's a thought. Hey, at least it's a start.

After all, a New York prep football player recently died as the result of a helmet-to-helmet hit. Maybe we should just accept that death is just part of the football culture, too.

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