By Dr. Ken 


One can run, do specific football related drills, lift weights, and even include contact against a hand held bag or sled in order to prepare for their upcoming football season. One of the great truths of football that is learned as early as high school and which becomes emphasized at the collegiate level, is that you can be in great “condition” but you cannot be conditioned to block and tackle until you block and tackle. The only way to become conditioned to the contact is to hit and be hit, to be exposed to actual contact. Before the start of sixth grade I became aware that there was a core group of athletes in our area that spent summer evenings running, throwing a football, and doing what appeared to be specific football type of drills during the evenings. They would meet three or four times each week on the beach or at the high school field and work hard for approximately ninety minutes or until the darkness made it difficult and a bit hazardous to continue. The group varied from eight to eighteen or more on any evening and some remained a part of that group of trainees for a number of years. They had attended different high schools with some playing at large college programs, some at smaller ones and others at what were still nationally respected Ivy League programs. A few would bring teammates to the sessions, these “outsiders” presumably visiting for a short time but who enthusiastically jumped into the mix of sprinting up and down sand dunes, running in knee or waist-deep ocean water, doing “fireman’s carry” in the soft sand, and a few years later, when our younger group became incorporated into the main group, a drill we referred to as “Hamburger” which was no more than the standard Oklahoma Drill done without protective equipment.


All of us lifted weights when it was still a shunned or negatively interpreted activity, and all of us were strong relative to bodyweight and certainly presented at our high school, college, or pro camps in superior physical condition when compared to most of our teammates. Yet, every one of us, when we first saw or spoke to each other after the commencement of fall camp, would comment that our level of soreness after the hitting began, was equivalent to that of our teammates. We could run further and drill longer than anyone, we were strong, and by every measure we were “well-conditioned,” but when the contact came, we suffered the same two or three days of extreme soreness from the actual contact. It was a harsh reminder that you needed to be hit in order to be conditioned to be hit! It really was that simple.


Lou “Babe” DeFilippo, Jr. Purdue’s 1962 Big Ten Sophomore Of The Year

For many years the number of Division 1 football players recruited from New York State has been constant, averaging a bit less than twenty-five per season. In years that Syracuse has been more successful in their in-state recruiting, the overall number increases but most college coaches will quickly state that they place their focus onto the northern New Jersey area long before they venture into New York State. Of those approximately twenty-five scholarship players, three to six will hail from Long Island. This number too has been constant with the involved universities varying, dependent upon which assistant college coaches have connections in the region. Legendary Amityville High School coach Lou Howard produced powerhouse teams throughout the 1950’s and ‘60’s, featuring great players like Bernie Wyatt and John Niland who both attended Iowa. Predictably, both were outstanding players at Iowa. Niland was later an All Pro offensive lineman with the Dallas Cowboys while Wyatt became a long time assistant coach at his alma mater and then at Wisconsin under Barry Alvarez. When Wyatt was a position coach and recruiting coordinator at both schools, they had numerous Long Island and New York/New Jersey Metropolitan players on those squads due to Bernie’s many contacts in the area. Purdue University too regularly recruited a number of Long Island players between 1960 through the mid-1970’s. Unlike some of the players recruited to Iowa by Wyatt who later became “name players” like Niland or twelve-year NFL veteran and first round draft choice Ronnie Harmon, Purdue focused on solid players who for the most part, became integral parts and multi-year letter winners of what were terrific offensive lines. Sal Ciampi who has been mentioned in numerous HELMET NEWS/REFLECTIONS articles has been perhaps the best known locally, receiving national recognition as a record setting high school coach following his outstanding Purdue career that included being the third Boilermaker to be named as an Academic All American, and as an All Big Ten selection who captained his squad and then had an outstanding Blue-Gray Game.

At only 5’9” and 201 pounds, few hit as hard and consistently as Salvatore Ciampi of Lawrence High School. Sal was a workout warrior, often setting the pace in the local garage where a number of collegiate and high school players gathered to lift weights over the summer. Here he leads Purdue back Gordon Teter against Notre Dame. Sal is revered as one of Long Island’s greatest high school players and coaches

Though more standouts like Gary and Henry Feil would follow and well represent the Boilermaker offensive lines, a contemporary of Sal’s perhaps had the most potential to be an all-time great. Lou DeFilippo Jr. of W. Tresper Clarke High School certainly had an example to follow, one that lived in his own house.  His father, Lou DeFilippo had been the leader of his Hillhouse (Connecticut) High School team that won the state championship, a center on the very good Fordham teams of the 1930’s, and a member of the N.Y. Giants in 1941 and following his military commitment, again from 1945 through ’47. He later coached with the Baltimore Colts and at Fordham and Columbia Universities. A teacher at heart, he followed his college and pro work with a life of high school teaching and coaching, first at Long Island’s Clarke High School and then as head coach at East Meadow where from 1961 through ’67 he compiled a 46-9-1 record that included a number of championships. He made his lasting mark returning to Connecticut to coach Derby High School from 1968 through 1982, going 116-30-8, having five undefeated teams, and winning state championships. This revered molder of men spent part of his World War II military service time playing football at Purdue University and this is where he steered son Lou Jr. who had his choice of numerous colleges. “Babe” as younger Lou was often referred to, was a 5’9”, 235 pound block of muscle who also spent the Long Island summers running and lifting and it paid off his sophomore season of 1962 when he was the Big Ten Sophomore Of The Year and named to a number of All American teams at tackle.



With more stardom forecast, he was derailed for the ’63 season after a May 25, 1963 auto accident that resulted in a severe injury to his left arm, costing him a redshirt season. He returned and started for the Boilermakers at left tackle for the 1964 and 1965 seasons on the opposite side of the line of Ciampi, his high school rival. Like Sal and his father, Lou Jr. became a highly respected and much beloved high school teacher and coach before passing away at a relatively young age. The work put in over the summers accurately predicted the success that came once the season started for Lou and a dedicated group of Long Island athletes from a past era.


 [Authors note: The DeFilippo family includes numerous members who have coached or served as administrators at many major collegiate programs and in the NFL. Lou, Lou Jr., former Boston College AD Gene DeFilippo, and current Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo are but a sampling of this family of football royalty]



As a logical thinker, the formula for today’s game of football and its appalling lack of fundamentals related to blocking and tackling is a rather easy one:

Lack of time dedicated to football related activity due to NCAA limitations +

Lack of allowed contact during every aspect of NFL related activity as mandated by the Collective Bargaining Agreement =

Lack of proper blocking and tackling ability and techniques.



I only wish that my physics classes had been this simple!  I would like to repeat that hard core football fans and especially Fantasy Football Fans (please allow me to more accurately describe that as “Gambling Football Fans” who may know statistics but don’t necessarily know “football”) marvel at the “skill,” size, speed, and athletic ability of today’s player but coaches at every level complain that the game has changed, not because it is “softer” but because there is such a dearth of fundamental teaching and learning. The reminders are everywhere. While watching a segment of Inside The NFL, commentator Phil Simms, in what had to be no more than a short paragraph of verbiage had it been in written form, made at least three references to a defender on screen, making “a form tackle.” This so-called form tackle, to anyone who played the game in the 1950’s through the mid-1970’s, was no more than “a tackle,” what used to be a “regular,” run of the mill, every play, put-your shoulder-on-the-ball or between the numbers, wrap up, and drive tackle. This was truly a “no big deal” tackle, yet Simms’ ongoing, gushing description made one immediately realize that this truly was a “form tackle,” one made in accordance with proper technique where the player broke down into a tackling stance, made contact, wrapped his arms around the ball carrier, and drove his opponent to the ground. It is now indeed a big deal, as routine as it would have been in a previous era, simply because no one does it any longer or at least it is no longer done with frequency.

A tackle that ESPN analysts would no doubt swoon over because Dennis Smith of the 1963 University Of Cincinnati Bearcats has his head up, arms wrapped, and is driving through his Miami University opponent. Yet Dennis, a superb tackle, did this multiple times every game as a matter of course


Respected football writer Bucky Brooks, a former NFL player, noted soon after the passage of the NFL CBA, all of the predictions that have become reality. On August 10, 2011, Brooks wrote,

      “Gone are the grueling two-a-day practices that have long been a staple of training camps. In their place, teams are able to conduct one full-contact padded practice per day accompanied by a walkthrough period.  The league has also placed limits on the number of full-contact padded practices during the regular season. Teams are permitted a total of 14 for the year with 11 of those practices conducted during the first 11 weeks of the season (a maximum of one per week)… The loss of full-contact practices could rob them (teams built upon physical aggressiveness) of the edginess that allows them to bully opponents.”

What passes for “typical practice attire” in today’s game of football


Most telling was his statement that now clearly echoes what NFL coaches especially are lamenting; “They assert the lack of contact will leave their squads unprepared for the intensity and physicality of the game.” I can only say “Absolutely.” The predictions for deterioration in contact related skills were obvious. Brooks, Mark Maske, and others spent time writing and talking about this:



“Tackling could suffer. Defensive coaches are worried about the prospect of shoddy tackling without full-speed contact drills on a consistent basis. Although defenders have spent years crafting their skills, the frenetic pace of the game requires players to work on proper angles and tackling fundamentals regularly. Granted, some defenses have been able to flourish without banging daily, but it's hard to replicate the tempo, aggressiveness and angle discipline needed without contact.”


There would be a reduction in run game effectiveness and efficiency with the lack of proper drill and contact time preventing the development of proper offensive line development. The point was made, and emphasizes the earlier point of this article that a player or group of players can practice against pads and sleds but needs to have live contact in order to respond properly in game situations to live contact. An offensive line is not going to be properly synchronized nor have the appropriate coordinated “push up front” without the benefit of practicing at full speed against moving targets.


Pass blocking would become less precise and efficient due to an absence of contact against blitzing defenses. As a coach, I would certainly rather have a blown blocking assignment against a blitzing linebacker in practice, allowing me an opportunity to correct the mistake, one that might have been either or both a mental error or one needing a physical/technique correction, than see my quarterback drawn and quartered in a live game. There is some protection for the signal callers while wearing red practice jerseys but going full speed and live allows every protector to learn their assignment. Without practice, the prediction for increased sacks and sack contact that is more violent than in the past is an easy one.


One of the important statistics that needs to be discovered is the comparison of head and neck injuries relative to knee and lower extremity injuries. Maintaining a focus on protecting the head and cervical spine is certainly positive but if a defender defines the lower body and especially the knee area as “a safer hit” that will not get them ejected or earn a fifteen yard penalty, then what? The fact is that defenders have, since the inclusion of the most recent CBA enforced rules, complained that “there is no safe place to hit an offensive player.” They are penalized and criticized for hitting high and risking or incurring an opponent’s head injury, and penalized and criticized for hitting low, viewed as “trying to take his knee out.” An injury comparison relative to pre-CBA days could be revealing.


The bottom line is this, in my limited opinion: the game is sloppy, not well played, and certainly not “the physical ballet” performed by masterful athletes that the NFL Network and ESPN would have the public believe; it is not yet proven to be safer relative to long term injury compared to the “old rules” days; the lack of time and absence of practice contact has produced poorly executed techniques or a lack of proper and safe techniques in blocking and tackling that perhaps have led to an increased rate and/or severity of injury. It is not certain that the National Football League or NCAA would provide an honest statistical analysis in either case as they seem content to live off of the marketing emphasis of the “big hit” and public perception that they have produced a safer game.