Salpointe football coach Dennis Bene

Salpointe Catholic coach Dennis Bene, Arizona’s only USA Football Master Trainer, hopes to change the approach to football. Bene believes player safety should be every coach’s top priority, followed by fundamentals.

photos by Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star 2013

After an undefeated season and state championship last fall, Salpointe Catholic football coach Dennis Bene landed a pro gig.

It has nothing to do with X’s and O’s.

Earlier this year, USA Football — an NFL-sponsored program — tabbed the longtime Lancers boss as Arizona’s lone master trainer, essentially, a coaches’ coach. Bene traveled to USA Football headquarters in Indianapolis, where he was been trained and certified to coach and teach others about Heads Up Football, a health initiative program run by USA Football.

This week, Bene will travel to the Bay Area for a youth player safety clinic. The following week, he’ll drive to Phoenix for a parents clinic at the Arizona Cardinals facility.

“We want to establish a common standard and also make sure we have certified player safety coaches,” Bene said. “Coaches that have been educated in our tackling, concussion, hydration and equipment fitting. We got these four pillars that we really want to standardize youth football – a standard language throughout the country.”

On Saturday, Bene hosted 30 coaches from around the state of Arizona and a few from California for a player safety clinic at Salpointe. Here’s what he taught:

not afraid of change

Every coach on every staff has most likely been taught to play football in one way or another. Yet with so many varying instructions, there’s bound to be some miscommunication not only between coaches and players, but also among coaching staffs.

Bene has taken his coaches through the program in an attempt to get everyone on his staff on the same page. Not just for his sake, but for the players’.

“If we’re all speaking the same terminology, it’s really easy for a kid to know, it doesn’t matter which coach on my staff is talking to him,” Bene said. “If every one of our players at Salpointe, and if all of our coaches are on the same page, now the light bulb is going on, the learning curve isn’t so steep.

“That’s what I’m trying to implement for the Fall of 2014. Our players love it: When they hear a word, it resonates. They visualize exactly what it’s supposed to be.”

rooted in education

The goal of the Heads Up Football program is to establish proactive standards to make the game better and safer for the kids.

One of the key components is to take the head out of the tackle.

For years, Bene had been taught to involve the head when tackling.

He’s even taught it in the past.

The biggest change in tackling technique has been to use the front of the shoulder in place of leading with the head.

“Many of the fundamentals that were taught long ago still exist in Heads Up Football,” Bene said.

“We just want to make sure the body is in a good balanced position, our head is aligned with our spine and we’re using the front of our shoulder.”

Fundamentals key

Bene believes player safety should be every coach’s top priority, followed by fundamentals. Knowing the basic football movements and body mechanics can prevent injuries.

With high school football practice starting in late July and spanning until late November or December, there are many opportunities for players to collide, Bene said.

“By teaching them properly, and keeping their head out of contact, we’re going to eliminate the number of times kids will collide head-to-head,” he said. “So right there you make the game safer.

“There’s too much emphasis on big plays, winning, highlight film, and not enough teaching kids to be fundamentally sound,” Bene added.

“If a kid is taught correctly at a younger age, when they get to the high school level, their ceiling is so much higher.”