It's only the second week of preseason for the Alexandria Titans, but already these players have learned the most important rule: to keep their heads up.
"Because if you put your head down then you could hit your head and crack your neck," explained Isaiah Hayes, 7, an aspiring quarterback.
Isaiah is among thousands of young athletes taking part in the nationwide rollout of Heads Up-- a training program promising to teach safer tackling. USA Football, the leading authority on amateur football, developed the techniques with funding from the NFL.
Isaiah's father noticed the difference right away.
"Keeping your head up when you're impacting was what really sold me," Lincoln Hayes said. "I immediately signed up my older two sons, same day."
Coaches get special instruction on conducting drills, monitoring player safety and fitting equipment properly.
Three years ago, this youth league roster started thinning out with headlines about concussions in the pros. Coach Marcus Mudarri says the Heads Up program is already bringing new faces onto the field.
"I do really think that's because parents feel more comfortable about letting their kids play football," Mudarri said.
Now, these young players are helping ensure the game's future while learning how to protect their own.
The Heads Up program is now being piloted in 32 high schools in eight states, including Fairfax County Public Schools, which earlier this summer became the first district in the country to require Heads Up training in all its high school programs.
For more information on Heads Up -- http://usafootball.com/headsup
PO Box 4508