North Coast coaches say a new law that will limit the amount of time high school football players can spend in full-contact drills largely reflects how local teams already structure their workouts, but others say the law, while well intentioned, is unclear and could leave untrained athletes at risk of injury.

The law, AB2127 written by Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, limits full-contact practices to 90 minutes, twice a week. Full-contact workouts will be banned during the offseason. In addition, players determined to have suffered a concussion must sit out at least seven days, whereas current rules allow players to return after one day.

Full-contact is defined as a practice where drills involve collisions at game speed and tackles that are typical of a game situation.

The law takes effect Jan. 1.

“Not everybody is going to agree on every aspect of the bill and what will be state law on January 1, but I think we can all agree that what we are trying to do is provide the safest environment for our student athletes,” said Gil Lemmon, North Coast Section athletics commissioner. “This is a good law.”

North Coast coaches largely agreed — albeit with questions about some aspects of the law.

“Obviously this is a move in the right direction,” said Jeff Burrell, varsity football coach at Ukiah High School.

California’s law makes it the 20th state to limit contact in football practices. It follows similar restrictions in college and professional football. The NFL, for example, has allowed just 14 full-contact practices during the 17-week regular season since 2010.

Paul Cronin, head coach at perennial playoff contender Cardinal Newman, said he had been limiting full contact in practices for years. But, in his experience, most injuries happen during games.

“That’s when the hits are harder and the players more aggressive,” he said, adding that his bigger concern is longer seasons. “I think the rule is mostly a good one, but if they really want to help the student athlete, what they need to do is limit the number of games each year We can play as many as 16 games and that’s a lot to ask of these kids. But it’s going to be hard to get that changed because it would impact the districts financially.”

Cronin had members of his Cardinals varsity team out on the practice field Tuesday afternoon as part of the twice-a-week sessions he holds over the summer. On a bright, windy day, players in helmets, pads and shorts took part in a variety of drills, including some involving light contact.

Players said they appreciated rules designed to help them avoid injury but that practices with contact helped them in games.

“It gets you ready for the real thing,” said Patrick Evans, 17, of Petaluma, a starting linebacker. “The more contact you have, the better prepared you are to handle the aggression of football. It’s part of the game.”

But Burrell said the law is ambiguous, especially with regard to popular summer camps where teams often travel as a group and go through intense, full-contact drills for multiple days. Burrell questioned whether coaches denied access to California-based camps might just take their teams across the border to Nevada or Oregon.

“It’s not a national law; it’s a California law,” he said. “Does that mean (a camp held) in the state of California? If there is a loophole, coaches will find it.”

Some coaches have already been warned by camp directors that full-contact camps are facing a difficult future.

Paul Harrell, varsity football coach at Calistoga High School, said members of his team attended a linemen camp in Stockton in June and were told by camp officials that it could be the last.

“They said, ‘Well, this may be our last one unless we can move it to Nevada,’” he said.

“I believe that would be a violation of the rule,” Lemmon said of taking a California squad to a full contact, off-season camp out of state. “Those are some of the interpretations and answers that we are going to have get for our schools.”

Harrell said his squad doesn’t focus on full-contact drills because many players on his small squad have to play both offense and defense so the risk of overuse or injury is too high.

“We don’t hit every day anyways,” he said. “I don’t think really in-season a lot of teams do go full on each other.”

Coaching smart, said Cronin, was the best way for kids to avoid injuries in a sport that he says is still relatively safe.

“In the levels of this game, out on the freeway that’s the pros,” he said. “On the local roads, that’s colleges. High school is the residential neighborhoods. It’s just not the same kind of contact.”

You can reach Staff Writers Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com and Elizabeth M. Cosin at 521-5276 or elizabeth.cosin@pressdemocrat.com.