LaVar Arrington was one of the nation's highest-rated linebackers in the nation during his high school and college career. He was named Parade National Player of the Year after his senior year at North Hills Senior High School in Pittsburgh, and he was drafted No. 2 overall in the 2000 NFL Draft after his junior season at Penn State.
But the former Washington Redskins star said he never would have reached those heights if he didn't know the fundamentals. That's why he's teamed up with Heads Up Football to help teach youth football players the proper way to play the game.
"It's way more important to do things the right way than have success doing things the wrong way," Arrington said.
Heads Up Football is a program designed to teach youth football players the right way. The NFL and USA Football planned to announce the launch of the program Tuesday, and they expect more than 600 youth leagues across America to adopt the program for the upcoming season.
Heads Up Football is a program designed to make football safer for players of all ages through five core elements: proper tackling fundamentals, coaching certification, player safety initiatives, concussion education and proper equipment fitting.
Arrington is serving as one of the program's NFL Ambassadors, working as a mentor for the Owings Mills Wolfpack Youth Football Program from the Greater Baltimore Youth Fall League. Arrington said the Heads Up program fits right in with the goals of his company Xtreme Procision — a Maryland-based training facility with a mission of developing the next generation of football players with safety as a priority.
"The health and safety of every youth football player is USA Football's No. 1 priority," USA Football Communications Director Steve Alic said. "Our Heads Up Football program brings together the most important components of a better and safer football experience."
The most important aspect of the program is tackling fundamentals, Arrington said. Concussions in football have been a growing problem for years, and the NFL has been exploring a litany of options to help reduce the risk of head injuries, including changing tackling rules, penalizing and fining players and looking into new equipment technology.
"It's a culture. So if you're going to build a culture, you have to start with the younger kids," Arrington said. "When those younger kids get older, you want to keep re-engaging them, you want to keep them staying within the fundamentals of the game, even as they get older. That's something that never ends."
Alic said Arrington's statement is "on target." It's likely too late to change the habits professional players have formed over years of playing the game, but starting the re-education process at the youth level could help change the culture of football over time.
"Heads Up Football is changing the way youth football is being played and coached," Alic said.
Heads Up Football has grown rapidly since Arrington was a part of the pilot program in Fairfax County, Va., last year, and other former pros such as Barry Sanders, Randall Cunningham, Carl Banks, Merrill Hoge and Michael Strahan have gotten involved for the nationwide launch.
It's still a work in progress, Arrington said, but steps are being made in the right direction.
"When you're changing habits that have been formed over a long period of time, there are going to be people that resist," Arrington said. "People have to understand that we are all fighting for the same thing. We are striving for excellence in the game of football, and we want the game to stay strong and be as safe as possible."