Offensive Face Mask Penalty in Youth Football
Can an offensive player be legally flagged for facemasking in Youth Football?
Last season on one of the youth football teams I coached, I had a 10 year old running back that loved to use the stiff arm. He wasn’t very fast or powerful, but he had good field vision. He was able to get to the open field quite often, but he rarely had the speed to take it the distance. Hence he had to use other tools at his disposal to try and avoid the inevitable tackler. Over time he developed a very consistent stiff-arm.
The Stiff Arm in Youth Football
Typically you like to see the stiff arm used to fend off a diving tackler, with the running backs hand fending off the would be tacklers helmet on the tacklers way to the ground on his last attempt “dive” at a tackle. Most stiff-arms however occur with the runner putting his hand to the upper chest of the tackler.
However, in youth football, that stiff arm can end up with the hand almost anywhere. This last season the above-mentioned running back was called for an offensive face masking penalty twice. I had never heard of that call before but assumed it was a valid call. At halftime when I courteously asked the official about it his reply was; “Anytime anyone touches the facemask we are going to call it, your kid didn’t grab it, but he can’t touch it”. After counseling this back to keep his hands out of the defenders facemask I didn’t think anything more about it until several weeks later when the same back did the same thing, a glancing blow off the facemask of the defender ( he didn’t grasp it) and the same penalty. This time I didn’t question it and chalked it up to poor execution and coaching on my part. The bad deal was both penalties resulted in gains of 30+ yards being nullified, one that could have easily cost us a very close game.
We play by NFHS rules, which are the High School rules used by 48 of the 50 US States. There are a few tiny nuances as to extra point kicks and punting for some of the younger age groups, but we basically use the states High School rules for this league.
What the Rules Really Say
In the off-season I was looking for information on how to better coach the stiff-arm and came across some interesting data. It seems the offensive player can’t be called for a face mask penalty unless they grasp the facemask:
Out of the NFHS rule book:
Rule 9-4-3-h: No player or nonplayer shall: Grasp an opponent’s face mask or any edge of a helmet opening. PENALTY: Incidental grasping (Art. 3h) – (S45) – 5 yards; grasping and twisting, turning or pulling the face mask or helmet opening (Art 3h) – (S38, 45) – 15 yards.The following case book situation addresses an offensive fask mask foul:
9.4.3 Situation G: With second down and five yards to go from B’s 30-yard line, A1 throws a pass to eligible A2. Following the reception, A2 inadvertently grasps B1’s face mask/helmet opening at B’s 15-yard line as B1 attempts to tackle A2, who scores a touchdown. RULING: If B accepts the penalty for the inadvertent grasping of the face mask/helmet opening by A2, the score is nullified. Following the penalty enforcement, it will be A’s all first and 10 at B’s 20-yard line. It makes no difference if the player grasping the face mask/helmet opening is on offense or defense. However, simply having one’s hand on the opponent’s face/mask or helmet is NOT a foul – the player must actually grasp the face mask or helmet opening (case book 9-4-3, situations H and J both address this). So, most stiff arms to the face mask will not result in a flag, but if the runner grasps the defender’s face mask or helmet opening, then it will be a foul.
What That Means for Us Coaching Youth Football
Everyone makes mistakes, I do, you do and even the referees do so unintentionally from time to time. Now I don’t suggest anyone hassles referees or suggest you upstage the ref crew in the middle of games, but this is a rule that some of them get wrong. A reasonable method to bring it to their attention would be to calmly discuss it with them at halftime if they got it wrong.
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