ST. MARYS, W.Va. — As high school football teams navigate through two-a-day practices and the annual grind of August training camp, football officials have been making the rounds to meet with players and coaches about rule changes and points of emphasis.
Nathan Jones is entering his nineteenth season as an official. He works with the Ohio/West Virginia board. Jones recently stopped by practice at St. Marys to meet with the Blue Devils.
“The state has wanted officials to get more interaction with high school practices. What we have done is try to interact with new rule changes and tell them what has changed for the 2022 season, as well as tips for limiting fouls and any questions the players may have,” Jones said.
Among the new rules adopted this year by the National Federation of State High School Associations are new definitions of ‘chop blocks’ and intentional grounding.
“Combination block has been redefined now. A block high and low has always been a foul. In a sense, low block has been redefined for below the waist. So if a high block is above the waist and a low block is below the waist, it is now a foul.
“Intentional grounding is not exactly like the college rule, but it is much more like than college rule than previously. Before, the pass anywhere if it was not near a receiver, it was intentional grounding. Now there is capability for a quarterback to get outside of our free blocking zone — or outside four yards from where the ball was snapped — and throw the ball downfield. As long as the ball releases and gets beyond the line of scrimmage, it is no longer intentional grounding.”
In addition to new rules, Jones says points of emphasis are discussed when meeting with teams.
“Sportsmanship is definitely emphasized as well as the defenseless player. We are trying to help limiting unnecessary contact. It is a big thing in football. We know some things are out there and we are trying to limit contact that is unnecessary away from the play and keeping your head out of the game. Things like that have always been initiated as an emphasis for officiating.”
During games, Jones says that officials do all they can to communicate with coaches and players in the hopes of limiting the number of penalties and stoppages of play.
“One of the things I think a lot of people think is that we are looking for fouls. We don’t want to call fouls. One of the major things we do as officials is preventative officiating. If we can prevent something from happening, it keeps the game flowing better and it also keeps composure. Anytime we have to interject ourselves with a flag, it is not necessarily what we want to do. It is what we have to do. If we can keep that from happening originally, it is better for us and better for the game.”
Recruitment of officials has been an emphasis for all sports in West Virginia and surrounding states. Training programs have been altered to be more accommodating to prospective officials.
“We need to get younger in officiating. Anyone that wants to officiate, there is much more flexibility now with regards to some online training. We’re trying to get people to have more capability with their daily lives. In the past it was tough for meetings in the evenings. The state is allowing a program for online training to get people engaged in it as well as board hours locally that solidify that training. The state needs officials for sure. We are probably almost at the point where we may have to say to certain schools that you can’t play Friday night. I don’t think any school wants to do that.”