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The Rules of High School Football

Some high school principals believe that football is the most important extracurricular activity on campus. Every state in the U.S. has its own high school federation or association that governs high school football and other sports. These federations oversee all-state awards, name district all-stars, and compile records of achievement.

This table shows how the rules governing high school football differ from NFL rules.

Comparing High School Rules to NFL Rules
High School Rule NFL Rule
Any ball carrier who touches the ground with any part of his body except his hands or feet is ruled down; the ball is dead at that spot. A ball carrier is considered down when he’s touched by an opponent while on the ground. For example, if an NFL runner slips and inadvertently touches the ground, he can get up and keep moving forward.
The defense can’t advance a fumble. The ball is ruled dead where the defensive player recovers it. The offense and defense can return fumbles.
A player is considered inbounds on a pass reception if he catches the ball with one foot down inside the sideline. A player must catch the ball with both feet down inside the sideline to be considered inbounds.
The goalposts are 23’4” wide, and they rise to 20’. The goalpost width is 18’6”, and rise to 30’ high.
The hash marks are 53’4” from each sideline. Because the hash marks are close to each sideline, high school offenses can attempt more running plays to the wide side of the field. Hash marks are 70’ 9” from each sideline.
Games are 48 minutes long. Games are 60 minutes long.

Unlike college and the NFL, no mandatory testing system for steroids is in effect at the high school level. (Some schools do test for marijuana and other drugs, though.)

You find more two-way players at the high school level because most high school teams don’t have enough quality players. A two-way player is one who plays both an offensive position and a defensive position. Here are some examples of the different combinations of positions:

  • Receivers may also play defensive back.

  • Quarterbacks may lead the offense and spark the defense at safety.

  • Blocking backs are also linebackers.

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