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Football camps open earlier with increased safety

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(STATS) - College football practices are beginning across the nation this week as part of a longer preseason to compensate for the elimination of multiple practices with contact during a single day.

As a way to reduce injuries and keep student-athletes healthy, the NCAA Division I Council voted earlier this year to disband the two-a-days that were so often dreaded by players.

The new by-law is embraced by coaches across the FCS level of Division I, many of whom had moved away from two-a-days in recent years.

"I just think those days are gone," Southeast Missouri coach Tom Matukewicz said. "My kids have been (on campus) all summer long, they're in the best shape of their entire life. Really all I need to do is teach them football; I don't think I need to risk their health to do that. I agree with the plans and have followed them. You'll see a lot less injuries, which is what it's all about."

During a single day, the NCAA is allowing a single, three-hour, on-field practice session and, after a three-hour recovery period, a non-contact walk-through of plays and situations without protective equipment such as helmets and pads. The walk-through can't include conditioning and is limited to two hours in length on the FCS level.

Not all preseason camps are opening this week, but teams can practice up to a week earlier than in past seasons to get in the same amount of reps. Practices are allowed six days a week and there are 29 practice opportunities, which some coaches say are too many.

"The morning practice is so taxing on the players (that) it's debatable how much you get out of it in the afternoon," said coach Mike Houston of FCS national champion James Madison. "I like the idea of having the recovering time of having another hard session and actually having the benefit of a walk-through with an actual football so you can make it a realistic situation right there."

"Twenty to 25 practices is enough to get ready for a season," Tennessee Tech coach Marcus Satterfield said. "It's a long season, it's a physical game, it's a hard game. If we keep our guys fresh, I think it's going to work toward our advantage."

William & Mary's Jimmye Laycock, the longest-tenured coach in the FCS, says he can remember the days of, gulp, three-a-days, so, yes, a lot has changed over time. Coaches have communicated with each other to get a full grasp of what's allowed and what isn't under the new by-law.

It's likely the NCAA will review the results of this year's preseason after the season in case further adjustments are necessary.

"To make a long story short, we're all kind of juggling it differently. I think everybody's trying to figure it out," Illinois State coach Brock Spack said.

Saint Francis coach Chris Villarrial, who played 11 seasons as an NFL offensive lineman, isn't alone in lamenting the loss of two-a-day practices, but, like others, he's busy changing under the new rule.

"I think at our level, you're not getting a four-star, a three-star athlete," Villarrial said. "You need time with them, you have to teach them how to be a good player, you have to teach them technique - you have to teach them how to tackle, you have to teach them how to run routes. That two-a-day element, I think develops a sense of toughness. I'm old school in a way, I had old school coaches. That grinding and that conditioning, you build that bond with your teammates. It's something that I was always a believer in. But now it's gone, so we have to adjust."