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For struggling prep football programs, six-quarter rule a potential game-changer

New Florida High School Athletic Association legislation will let a player compete in a JV game Thursday and varsity game Friday.

The gritty, bantam tailback on Hudson’s junior varsity roster last season symbolized the perpetual plight of Cobras varsity coach Tim Hicks.

Tanner Testori, a 5-foot-6, 145-pound freshman, ran for close to 400 yards in only about three games, brandishing grit and potential with each handoff. In a perfect prep football world, Hicks, who fielded only around 30 varsity players on a good night, would’ve used Testori for spot duty on Fridays.

But that would’ve precluded Testori from JV action, for which he remains more physically suited. “He’s not big enough to be able to play varsity right now,” Hicks said. “He can’t handle 25 carries on varsity, but he might be able to handle 10.”

Thanks to new legislation taking effect this fall, Testori will get that chance. And Hudson, which has struggled with depth issues for most of its 46-year existence, can fill one more varsity jersey on Fridays.

“I’ve been hoping that it would pass for a while,” Hicks said.

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After years of clamoring from coaches across the state, the Florida High School Athletic Association’s board of directors recently passed a “six-quarter” rule that essentially will allow a player to compete in a JV and varsity contest the same week.

The rule could do no less than resuscitate programs that annually struggle to field both varsity and JV teams ― or even one team.

“I think it will definitely help,” said Gulf coach Daniel McLeod, an 11th-hour hire last season who fielded no JV team and had to cancel his final three varsity games when only 13 healthy players remained.

“Having the six-quarter (rule) now gives me an opportunity to plug and play in situations to where we can still do some quality roster management.”

At its essence, the rule is just as it sounds: A promising freshman or sophomore could participate in an entire JV game, then be available for a couple of varsity quarters. On the flip side, a seldom-used varsity upperclassman could gain experience with extensive JV action.

The only stipulation: Schools that wish to employ the rule must apply to the state association by Monday of Week 3 of the regular season.

“This rule’s gonna benefit every program,” said Northeast coach Jeremy Frioud, whose injury-depleted varsity roster had fewer than 20 healthy players at one point last season. “It makes all sense for every program.”

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In terms of such legislation, Florida has lagged woefully behind most of the country. Bobby Johns, outgoing president of the FHSAA board of directors, told the group that 41 states already offer its football players the opportunity to compete in more than one game a week.

In some states, players can participate in up to eight quarters weekly, Johns said. In others, it’s 50 quarters in a season, or 18 games in a season.

Meaning Florida’s new provision remains relatively conservative. Nonetheless, coaches with lean rosters see it as a game-changer for their sport, which has suffered a nationwide decline in participation over the last decade.

“I believe that it will help us be able to keep kids in the program,” Hicks said.

“We’re gonna have to buy more jerseys maybe, but that ninth-grader or 10th-grader that normally wouldn’t be out there is gonna be out there on a Friday night, and is gonna be vested in that Friday night feel.”

Frioud argues that in the era of de facto prep free agency, even large schools with bloated rosters will benefit.

Consider a heralded freshman who arrives at a prominent local program, but can’t immediately crack the congested varsity roster. In previous years, that freshman and his family might be inclined to transfer to a place where he could play on varsity right away.

“He’s gonna go transfer to a different school and you’re gonna lose that talent,” Frioud said. “But now, you can have that (kid) play on JV and throw him up on varsity, make mom and dad happy. It benefits everyone.”

But some questions linger. Many coaches wonder how schools ― and the FHSAA ― will track the weekly participation of every football player, leading to skepticism of how effectively the rule can be enforced.

And what about that school that infuses its JV roster with varsity players for the purpose of beating a rival?

“I don’t know exactly how it’s gonna work or how it’s gonna be monitored, which is what everybody’s talking about, so it’ll be interesting to see how it works out,” Hicks said. “But I’m excited.”

General sentiment is, the rule’s benefits far exceed any blemishes. Rosters can be fortified. So can self-esteem. Collectively, kids can get more snaps.

Perhaps resulting in a hike in overall participation.

“All (the rule) does is make positives,” Frioud said. “If anybody in Pinellas County has a problem with this rule, they’re just a selfish rat.”