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New 'targeting' rule affects approach to the game

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Fort Hays State University second-year defensive coordinator Cooper Harris is well aware of all of the concussion news that has surrounded football the last couple of years. As well, the NCAA issued a new targeting rule for this season.

Immediate ejections occur for any major hit that is deemed "targeting."

To further the point, MIAA director of officials Bill Laurie made trips throughout team camps in August, including an early-season stop in Hays.

The Tigers open the season Thursday against Emporia State University. Start time is 7 p.m. at Lewis Field Stadium.

"I don't know if it's changed how we have coached," Harris said.

"Definitely the emphasis on it, because I feel like we have always taught kids the proper technique as far as tackling goes.

"But definitely with the concussions and as much as you hear about it now, it's something that you have spend a greater amount of time teaching and reinforcing those things," he added. "This year, with the change in the rules, it's been a bigger emphasis this year."

The targeting rule brought some controversy in the first week of college games last weekend. Harris said the targeting calls are "real subjective" in a fast-paced environment.

"Football is a contact sport," Harris said. "It's a violent sport, but we don't want to see anyone get injured. We make sure that our kids aren't leading with their heads and those things. At the same time, you don't want to take away their aggressiveness."

Up-tempo offenses

Another trend is up-tempo, quick offenses. Emporia State averaged 74.8 plays per game in 2012, fourth-most in the 15-team MIAA.

University of Nebraska-Kearney led with 78.5. Fort Hays ranked third-fewest at 68. Harris said two things can help combat the fast speed: summer conditioning and depth.

"We definitely have more depth at that position than we have, and all of those guys come in and done a great job," Harris said of the defensive line. "I know Coach (Zach) Watkins has done a great job, and really there is about seven, eight guys on our d-line that could get significant playing time. ... The more guys you can keep around in the summer, the closer they can get."

Schmidtberger to see plenty of playing time

Redshirt freshman linebacker Alex Schmidtberger is expected to see the field plenty Thursday, a rare freshman who will play often.

"He is a kid that comes in and works hard," Harris said. "He studies, he works hard and he is a good athlete, and if you put in the time and are blessed to be able to play the game, you are going to see it on the field. He is a young kid and he is a good football player, but he is really putting in the work."