Secondary school competition in gridiron football

High school football (French: football au lycée) is gridiron football played by high school teams in the United States and Canada. It ranks among the most popular interscholastic sports in both countries, but its popularity is declining, partly due to risk of injury, particularly concussions.[1] According to The Washington Post, between 2009 and 2019, participation in high school football declined by 9.1%.[2] It is the basic level or step of tackle football.

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) establishes the rules of high school American football in the United States. In Canada, high school is governed by Football Canada and most schools use Canadian football rules adapted for the high school game except in British Columbia, which uses the NFHS rules.[3]

Since the 2019 high school season, Texas is the only state that does not base its football rules on the NFHS rule set, instead using NCAA rules with certain exceptions shown below.[4][5] Through the 2018 season, Massachusetts also based its rules on those of the NCAA,[6] but it adopted NFHS rules in 2019.[7]

With their common ancestry, the NFHS rules of high school American football are largely similar to the college game, though with some important differences:

  • The four quarters are each 12 minutes in length, as opposed to 15 minutes in college and professional football. (Texas uses the NFHS 12-minute quarter.)
  • Kickoffs take place at the kicking team’s 40-yard line, as opposed to the 35 in college and the NFL. (Texas has adopted the NFHS rule.)
  • If an attempted field goal is missed it is treated as a punt, normally it would be a touchback and the opposing team will start at the 20-yard line. However, if it does not enter the end zone, it can be downed or returned as a normal punt.
  • The use of a kicking tee is legal for field goal and extra point attempts. (Texas has adopted the NFHS rule, although tees have been banned by the NCAA since 1989).
  • Any kick crossing the goal line is automatically a touchback; kicks cannot be returned out of the end zone.
  • The spot of placement after all touchbacks—including those resulting from kickoffs and free kicks following a safety—is the 20-yard line of the team receiving possession. Contrast with NCAA and NFL rules, which call for the ball to be placed on the receiving team’s 25-yard line if a kickoff or free kick after a safety results in a touchback.
  • All fair catches result in the placement of the ball at the spot of the fair catch. Under NCAA rules (but not NFL rules), a kickoff or free kick after a safety that ends in a fair catch inside the receiving team’s 25-yard line is treated as a touchback, with the ball spotted on the 25.
  • Pass interference by the defense results in a 15-yard penalty, but no automatic first down (prior to 2013, the penalty also carried an automatic first down).
  • Pass interference by the offense results in a 15-yard penalty, from the previous spot, and no loss of down.
  • The defense cannot return an extra-point attempt for a score. Texas is the lone exception.
  • Any defensive player that encroaches the neutral zone, regardless of whether the ball was snapped or not, commits a “dead ball” foul for encroachment. 5-yard penalty from the previous spot.
  • Prior to 2013, offensive pass interference resulted in a 15-yard penalty and a loss of down. The loss of down provision was deleted from the rules starting in 2013. In college and the NFL, offensive pass interference is only 10 yards.
  • The use of overtime, and the type of overtime used, is up to the individual state association. The NFHS offers a suggested overtime procedure based on the Kansas Playoff, but does not make its provisions mandatory.
  • Intentional grounding may be called even if the quarterback is outside the tackle box (Iowa has adopted the collegiate rule).[8]
  • The home team must wear dark-colored jerseys, and the visiting team must wear white jerseys. In the NFL, as well as conference games in the Southeastern Conference, the home team has choice of jersey color. Under general NCAA rules, the home team may wear white with approval of the visiting team, or both teams may wear colored jerseys if they sufficiently contrast.
  • Since 2018, the so-called “pop-up kick”—a free kick technique sometimes used for onside kicks, in which the kicker drives the ball directly into the ground so that it bounces high in the air (thus eliminating the possibility of a fair catch)—has been banned.[9]
  • Effective in 2019, NFHS gave its member associations the option to allow replay review in postseason games only.[10] Previously, it prohibited the use of replay review even if the venue had the facilities to support it. In Texas, the public-school sanctioning body, the University Interscholastic League, only allows replay review in state championship games, while the main body governing non-public schools, the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, follows the pre-2019 NFHS practice of banning replay review.

At least one unique high school rule has been adopted by college football. In 1996, the overtime rules originally utilized by Kansas high school teams beginning in 1971 were adopted by the NCAA, although the NCAA has made five major modifications. Through the 2018 season, each possession started from the 25-yard line. Since 2021, this remains in force through the first two overtime procedures. In the second overtime, teams must attempt a two-point conversion after a touchdown. Secondly, triple overtime & thereafter are two-point conversion attempts instead of possessions from the 25-yard line, and successful attempts are scored as conversions instead of touchdowns.

Thirty-four states have a mercy rule that comes into play during one-sided games after a prescribed scoring margin is surpassed at halftime or any point thereafter. The type of mercy rule varies from state to state, with many using a “continuous clock” after the scoring margin is reached (wherein, except for specific situations, the clock keeps running on plays where the clock would normally stop). Other states end the game once the margin is reached or passed. For example, Texas uses a 45-point mercy rule (to stop the game) only in six-man football; for 11-man football there is no automatic stoppage but the coaches may mutually agree to use a continuous clock.


High school football in the United States is played almost entirely by boys. Over the past decade, girls have made up less than half a percent of the players of American high school football.[11] Eight states have high schools that sanction the non-contact alternative of flag football,[12] but none sanction tackle football for girls,[13] and a 2021 lawsuit in Utah that claimed the state violated Title IX laws by not sanctioning the sport was struck down.[14]

According to the New York Times, in 2006, 70% of high school football players were white and 20% were black; by 2018, those figures were 30% white and 40% black.[15] Black youth are nearly three times more likely than white youth to play tackle football.[16]

The largest stadiums by capacity[edit]

Below the largest high school American football stadiums by capacity. Stadiums with a capacity of at least 10,000 are included.[17][18][19]

Location Stadium Capacity
Wailuku, Hawaii War Memorial Stadium 23,000
Canton, Ohio Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium 22,400
Baton Rouge, Louisiana BREC Memorial Stadium 21,395
Mesquite, Texas Mesquite Memorial Stadium 20,000
San Antonio, Texas Alamo Stadium 18,500
Allen, Texas Eagle Stadium 18,000
Massillon, Ohio Paul Brown Tiger Stadium 16,392
Clarkston, Georgia James R. Hallford Stadium 15,600
Roebuck, South Carolina Cavalier Stadium 15,200
Cedar Rapids, Iowa Kingston Stadium 15,000
Tacoma, Washington Stadium Bowl 15,000
Little Rock, Arkansas Quigley Stadium 15,000
Hobbs, New Mexico Watson Memorial Stadium 15,000
Allentown, Pennsylvania J. Birney Crum Stadium 15,000
Cumberland, Maryland Greenway Avenue Stadium 15,000
Meridian, Mississippi Ray Stadium 14,000
McAllen, Texas McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium 13,500
Carrollton, Texas Tommy Standridge Stadium 13,000
Pueblo, Colorado Dutch Clark Stadium 12,500
Irving, Texas Joy and Ralph Ellis Stadium 12,500
Bedford, Texas Pennington Field 12,500
San Benito, Texas Bobby Morrow Stadium 12,000
Austin, Texas Burger Stadium 12,000
Bridgeport, Connecticut John F. Kennedy Stadium 12,000
Denton, Texas CH Collins Stadium 12,000
Houston, Texas Jones-Cowart Stadium 12,000
Pasadena, Texas Veterans Memorial Stadium 12,000
Louisville, Kentucky Manual Stadium 11,500
Cypress, Texas Cy-Fair FCU Stadium 11,000
Austin, Texas Kelly Reeves Stadium 11,000
Evansville, Indiana Reitz Bowl 11,000
Commerce, Texas Memorial Stadium 11,000
San Antonio, Texas Dub Farris Stadium 10,000
Dallas, Texas Forester Stadium 10,000
San Antonio, Texas Jerry Comalander Stadium 10,000
Harlingen, Texas J. Lewis Boggus Stadium 10,000
Miami, Florida Nathaniel Traz-Powell Stadium 10,000
Bluefield, West Virginia Mitchell Stadium 10,000
Brownsville, Texas Sams Memorial Stadium 10,000
Corsicana, Texas Tiger Stadium 10,000
New Braunfels, Texas Unicorn Stadium 10,000
Sioux Falls, South Dakota Howard Wood Field 10,000
Tulsa, Oklahoma Union-Tuttle Stadium 10,000
Waller, Texas Waller ISD Stadium 10,000

Safety and brain health concerns[edit]

Robert Cantu, a Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery and Co-Founder of the CTE Center at the Boston University School of Medicine, believes that children under 14 should not play tackle football.[20] Their brains are not fully developed, and myelin (nerve cell insulation) is at greater risk in shear when the brain is young. Myelination is completed at about 15 years of age. Children also have larger heads relative to their body size and weaker necks.[21][22]

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is caused by repeated brain trauma, such as concussions and blows to the head that do not produce concussions. It has been found in football players who had played for only a few years, including some who only played at the high school level.[23][24]

An NFL-funded study reported that high school football players suffered 11.2 concussions per 10,000 games or practices, nearly twice as many as college football players.[25]

According to 2017 study on brains of deceased gridiron football players, 99% of tested brains of NFL players, 88% of CFL players, 64% of semi-professional players, 91% of college football players, and 21% of high school football players had various stages of CTE.[26]

Other common injuries include injuries of legs, arms, and lower back.[27][28][29][30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ “Concussions in High School Sports – Can Football be Saved? – Athletico”. January 24, 2020.
  2. ^ Bogage, Jacob (3 October 2019). “D-III football players say choice to forfeit season after injuries was theirs, not college’s”. The Washington Post. Retrieved 2019-10-03. Nationally, high school football participation has declined 9.1 percent over the past 10 years.
  3. ^ “BCFOA Home”. British Columbia Football Official’s Association. Archived from the original on September 13, 2010. Retrieved September 1, 2010.
  4. ^ “2018–19 Football Manual” (PDF). University Interscholastic League. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  5. ^ “Section 159 – Football Rules”. TAPPS Constitution. Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  6. ^ “Rule 69.1” (PDF). Rules and Regulations Governing Athletics. Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association. July 1, 2009 – June 30, 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 16, 2009. Retrieved July 28, 2009.
  7. ^ “MIAA Aligns Rules with NFHS in Football, Volleyball & Baseball” (Press release). National Federation of State High School Associations. August 8, 2018. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  8. ^ Aldam, Will (February 18, 2022). “NFHS football changes include intentional grounding, chop block interpretation”. CT Insider. Retrieved August 10, 2022.
  9. ^ “New Blocking, Kicking Rules Address Risk Minimization in High School Football” (Press release). National Federation of State High School Associations. April 24, 2018. Retrieved December 2, 2019.
  10. ^ “Football Rules Changes – 2019”. National Federation of State High School Associations. May 16, 2019. Retrieved November 24, 2019.
  11. ^ “11-player football participation in U.S. high schools 2009-2022, by gender”. Statista Research Department. September 2022. Retrieved 2022-12-02.
  12. ^ Lindkvist, Kierstin (2022-03-06). “All-girls flag football league wraps up winter season, looks to expand”. KVAL. CBS. Retrieved 2022-12-02.
  13. ^ Bogage, Jacob (2019-05-02). “When Sam Gordon was 9, she beat boys at football. Now she wants a high school league for girls”. The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2022-12-02.
  14. ^ “Judge Rules Utah Schools Don’t Need To Sanction Girls’ Football”. 2021-03-03. Retrieved 2022-12-02.
  15. ^ Belson, Ken; Bui, Quoctrung; Drape, Joe; Taylor, Rumsey; Ward, Joe (2019-11-08). “Inside Football’s Campaign to Save the Game”. The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-12-02.
  16. ^ “RACE AND SPORT” (PDF). Women’s Sports Foundation. July 2016. Retrieved 2022-12-01.
  17. ^ Adame, Tony (May 13, 2022). “Biggest High School Football Stadiums”. Stadium Talk.
  18. ^ “Stadiums with Capacity Greater Than 16,500”.
  19. ^ Shelton, Chris; Young, Matt (August 3, 2022). “Texas high school football: The 20 biggest, most expensive stadiums”. Houston Chronicle.
  20. ^ Nader, Ralph; Reed, Kenneth (November 8, 2016). “The X’s and O’s of brain injury and youth football”. Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on August 27, 2017. Retrieved August 26, 2017.
  21. ^ Cantu, ” Concussions and Our Kids”
  22. ^ Paul Solotaroff, “This Is Your Brain on Football” Archived October 1, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, January 31, 2013, Rolling Stone
  23. ^ Toporek, Bryan (December 6, 2012). “New: High School Football Can Lead to Long-Term Brain Damage, Study Says”. Education Week. Archived from the original on August 2, 2017. Retrieved August 26, 2017.
  24. ^ “Deadly Hits: The Story of Ex-football Player Chris Coyne”. Lauren Tarshis YouTube page. Lauren Tarshis. September 21, 2012. Archived from the original on May 28, 2017. Retrieved August 27, 2017.
  25. ^ Preps at greater concussion risk Archived November 4, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, ESPN, Tom Farrey, October 31, 2013.
  26. ^ Moran, Barbara (July 26, 2017). “BU Researchers Find CTE in 99% of Former NFL Players Studied”. The Brink. Boston University.
  27. ^ Willigenburg, N. W.; Borchers, J. R.; Quincy, R.; Kaeding, C. C.; Hewett, T. E. (2016). “Comparison of Injuries in American Collegiate Football and Club Rugby: A Prospective Cohort Study – Nienke W. Willigenburg, James R. Borchers, Richard Quincy, Christopher C. Kaeding, Timothy E. Hewett, 2016”. The American Journal of Sports Medicine. 44 (3): 753–60. doi:10.1177/0363546515622389. PMID 26786902. S2CID 21829142.
  28. ^ Quinn, Elizabeth (November 27, 2019). “Common Aches, Pains, and Injuries You Can Expect From Playing Football”. Verywell Fit.
  29. ^ Makovicka, J. L.; Patel, K. A.; Deckey, D. G.; Hassebrock, J. D.; Chung, A. S.; Tummala, S. V.; Hydrick, T. C.; Gulbrandsen, M.; Hartigan, D. E.; Chhabra, A. (2019). “Lower Back Injuries in National Collegiate Athletic Association Football Players: A 5-Season Epidemiological Study”. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. 7 (6). doi:10.1177/2325967119852625. PMC 6582304. PMID 31245431.
  30. ^ “High School Sports News – live scores, stats, standings and projections”. High School Sports News.
  • ESPN College Football Encyclopedia by Michael McCambridge – lists all-time records for all current Division I and Ivy League colleges, including games played against high school teams ISBN 1-4013-3703-1

External links[edit]


Bishop Sycamore High School scandal


C. W. Blubberhouse

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