COLUMBIA, Mo. Bigger, faster, stronger. It’s the promise and the purpose of every training staff in college football.
Rob Droege’s college experience went another direction. He got shorter.
From the time he arrived on Missouri’s campus as a freshman in 1999 to when he began a professional playing career in 2004, the offensive lineman shrank from 6-foot-7 to 6-foot-6¼. He knows exactly why.
“When I played at Mizzou, I used my head to block,” said Droege, 34, an All-Big 12 offensive tackle in 2003. “I just wasn’t strong enough in the upper body to use my hands.”
Droege was fortunate not to suffer any long-term health issues, but his dangerous head-first blocking style underscores his greater purpose now. Droege works for USA Football as a master trainer for the Heads Up program, teaching youth and high school coaches, parents and players across the country safer ways to play the game.
The sport has come under siege in recent years with a heightened awareness of head and neck injuries and the short- and long-term damage they can cause. With USA Football leading the way, the sport has responded in various ways from youth leagues to high school, from college to the pros.
“We were getting such a black eye in the media with the concussions, and rightly so in some cases,” Droege said. “Part of it was we weren’t coaching well.”
The Heads Up program offers nationally accredited courses to educate coaches on health issues like concussions, hydration and cardiac arrest. Droege and his fellow trainers also teach carefully refined blocking and tackling techniques. The five-step Heads Up tackling form ends with a double uppercut tackle where the defender targets the top of the ball-carrier’s numbers. The tackler doesn’t use his helmet in any way, doesn’t wrap up or bend at the waist.
“It’s the same drills we’ve always done, just with a focus and message we’re sending the kids about exactly where they put their body,” said Droege, who also teaches at Lindbergh High and coaches at Kirkwood High. “You’re using the front of the shoulder for contact and not the top of the shoulder, so the head doesn’t come down.”