Roger Brown: Flexing into a new kind of footballBy ROGER BROWN
October 14. 2018 9:31PM
IT’S NOT flag football, although flags can be used. It’s not tackle football either, but contact, at least a limited amount, is allowed.
Picture a brand of football that bridges the gap between flag football and the tackle version of the game you watch every weekend. A brand of football that features soft-shell helmets and lightweight shoulder pads. What you have is Flex Football, and it’s coming to New Hampshire.
Flex Football founder Joe LaRocque said he envisions Flex Football as something that will help young athletes transition to tackle football by allowing them to develop skills that aren’t necessarily emphasized in flag football. His mission, he said, is to provide a safe sport that will keep kids playing football and grow that game.
The following is from the Flex Football web site: “Our mission is dedicated to fueling the growth of football, providing a new entry point into the game and enabling year-round play for all size and skill-level players, coaches, media and spectators alike.”
“Our vision right now to help grow the middle school teams,” LaRocque explained. “We have to get to the middle school level, and then bleed it into high school. It’s a great offseason platform as well.
“7-on-7 football has become flashy, like AAU basketball. It’s killing the game. It’s gonna replace the 7-on-7 (game) 100 percent. It’s a new look to the game.”
LaRocque also founded RockSolid, the company that produces the soft-shell helmets and shoulder pads than are being worn by teams at all levels during full-speed, non-contact drills.
“Once we had the equipment, the idea for Flex Football was born,” he said.
Flex Football offers slightly more contact than flag football, but still utilizes flags or touch tackling, which eliminates much of the contact that takes place in tackle football. Flex Football bills itself as a sport that provides “the perfect way for younger flag players to progress towards slightly more contact, introducing them to important tackle skills before they are ready to make the full leap to tackle football. It also serves as the perfect off-season training program for current tackle players, as it teaches and reinforces many tackle concepts but eliminates the significant contact those players would prefer to avoid outside the fall season.”
Some Flex Football rules:
• No tackling: Players are marked down by having the flag pulled, two-hand touch or being tagged.
• No shoulder blocking: “Hands first” blocking is the only blocking allowed.
• No bull rushing.
• No three-point stances.
• Blitzes are limited to one per new set of downs.
• No A-gap blitzes on the line of scrimmage.
• Running is allowed.
• QBs can run past the line of scrimmage only if blitzed.
Flex Football will be run and promoted in New Hampshire by Vitality Sports, a Bedford-based company founded by Mike Burnett, Chris Maye and Joe Proulx. The first Flex Football league in the state will start in January at the PhanZone Sports Complex in Hampstead.
“We see this as filling the gap between flag and tackle football,” Burnett said. “There’s extra protection and it’s more physical (than flag football). The gear is not as expensive as lot of people would think (about $65 for a helmet and $75 for shoulder pads). I absolutely see this as reinvigorating the sport, since there are low numbers at so many youth levels.
“This is also an unbelievable offseason opportunity for a lot of the kids. I think it will absolutely take over the market.”
Burnett also pointed out that Flex Football gives linemen on opportunity to develop their skills in the offseason, something that the 7-on-7 game doesn’t do.
New Hampshire will get a detailed introduction to Flex Football when the executives of RockSolid (all former NFL players) run a Flex Academy Clinic on Nov. 17 at the Seacoast United Outdoor Complex in Epping. There will be two sessions offered that day. Session 1 will be for players in grades 2-5 (9-11:30 a.m.) and Session 2 will be for grades 6-8 (1-3:30 p.m.).
Those who can’t attend the Flex Academy can learn more about Flex Football at the Vitality Sports website (www.vitalitysports.org) or the Flex Football website (www.flexfootball.com).
Maye and Proulx said they became interested in Flex Football, in part, to encourage more athletes to play football at the youth levels.
“We need more kids playing football,” Proulx said. “I think this will keep the kids playing the sport, but in a safer way.”
“Our goal is to get Flex Football played through junior high, and then maybe high schools will use it as a developmental program,” Maye added. “I think it’s more useful than 7-on-7 because linemen are involved. Another thing is the quarterback is throwing from a pocket with a rush coming at him. You don’t have that in 7-on-7.”
LaRocque, who played at Oregon State and in the NFL, said he expects there to be about 150 Flex Football leagues across the country in 2019.
“It has nothing to do with the dollar,” he said. “It’s about making an impact in the game of football.”