High School Football

How one makes the call

Ever sit up in the stands on a Friday night and wonder how the referees could have possibly made that call?

You're not alone. But it's not as if you have the chance to hustle down to the field to ask the man in stripes his reasoning behind his call.

However, we tried to do the next best thing. We asked Don Hart - one of the Mid-Columbia's top referees (he worked the 2003 Class 4A title game and '05 1A state semifinals) and the Tri-City association's rules interpreter - to explain just what an official looks for in deciding whether or not something is legal.

He prefaces his comments by saying, "Officials are more than 'policemen of the game,' throwing a flag for every infraction they see. Rather they are judged by how the game flows, how it is controlled and by penalizing those fouls which are a safety issue, which make a travesty of the game and those which are critical to fairness in making the play. With that said what are some key things to understand in watching a high school game?"

1. It's said that you could call holding on every play, so what is it that an official looks for to determine whether to call it?

There are three very key basic factors: The point of attack - that location where the play is happening; the effect of a particular act on the play; the official must see the whole action, not just the tail end of action during a play. Typical things you look for:

- Takedowns or plays where the defensive player has his feet taken out;

- Encircling the defensive player with the hands and arms outside the frame;

- If the defensive player is being held while tackling or attempting to make the tackle in the area of the runner. If the action on the runner is away from the runner the holding action has no effect on the play and is not called.

2. There is no 5-yard zone in high school football for defenders to jam a receiver, so how does an official determine what is alegal jam at the line?

The 5-yard zone is, of course, an NFL rule intended to allow the receiver the maximum opportunity to make a receiving play.

In the high school game, contact with a receiver is allowed as long as the receiver can be a blocker. Once the receiver has moved into his route to be a receiver and is not a potential blocker he can not be hit, jammed or pushed. If such action by the defense happens before the pass is thrown it is considered to be "illegal use of hands," which carries a 10-yard penalty. If it occurs while the pass is in the air and the pass is generally in the same area of the field as the contact it may be judged to be defensive pass interference.

3. What are the keys that an official watches for to determine pass interference?

There are several things that the official looks for:

- Contact by a defender who is not playing the ball and such contact restricts the receiver's opportunity to make the catch. A player must be looking for the ball prior to any contact;

- Playing through the eligible receiver who has established his position;

- Grabbing a receiver's arm restricting his opportunity to make the catch;

- Shoving or pushing to gain separation

- Blocking downfield by the offense on a play where a pass crosses the line of scrimmage and the pass has not yet been touched.

Several other factors are that restrictions on pass interference start with the snap for the offense, when the ball is in the air for the defense and there is only pass interference if the pass crosses the line of scrimmage. Touching the ball in flight by the offense or defense also has a bearing on whether there is pass interference.

4. How late does a hit have to be to be called a late hit?

Generally speaking, the defender has an obligation to not rough an offensive player if they can be avoided. If it is a late hit, it is unnecessary roughness and so a judgment is made as to whether the contact is incidental and if it was possible for the defender to avoid the offensive player. This approach applies to roughing the quarterback, roughing the kicker or holder or unnecessary roughness out of bounds or at the end of the play.

5. What is a chop block and is it the same as blocking below the waist?

Blocking below the waist in high school is very restricted in comparison to the college game, and this is a recognition of the skill and development of the players' growth.

The block below the waist is one which starts below the waist and generally is designed to take a player out at the thighs or knees. It may only be done on the initial line charge by the offensive lineman on the line of scrimmage and as long as the ball is in the free-blocking zone (this is an area which is 4 yards wide on either side of the center and three yards deep on either side of the line of scrimmage). The ball generally leaves this zone in a hurry through a QB dropback, a shotgun snap, a pitchback or a run which is wide. Furthermore, those who can block or be blocked this way must be on the line of scrimmage in the free blocking zone (offense or defense) at the time of the snap. An individual block which involves contact high and then a break in the contact and a low hit will almost always receive a block below the waist call. A back cannot block low, a man in motion cannot block low, and a defender such as a safety or linebacker cannot hit low. For young high school players this can be a particularly injurious block when executed outside the rule restrictions.

A block which also causes significant injuries and is to be penalized every time is a chop block. In this case there are two blockers, with one blocker establishing the block and then with a delayed action the second blocker hits low, generally at the knees. Any such delayed action blocks low are forbidden by the rules. A simultaneous double-team immediately at the snap is allowed.