High School Football Rules Explained

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) establishes high school football rules in most states. Texas and Massachusetts, however, follow the rules laid out by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Many of the rules differences for high school football are in place to address the physical differences between teenagers and adults. Although safety is a priority at every level, high school football requires an extra measure of caution as many players are still learning the fundamentals and techniques of the game.

How High School Football Rules Are Different
In general, high school football rules mirror those of the NCAA. There are, however, several significant differences. Those differences include:

  • The time is right. Although high school football games have four quarters, each quarter is only 12 minutes instead of the 15 minutes typical in college and professional football.
  • Ready for kickoff? In high school football, the ball is placed at the 40-yard line of the kicking team. At other levels of the sport, the ball is placed at the kicking team's 30-yard line.
  • Getting back to touchbacks. High school football rules state that any kick that crosses the goal line is considered a touchback-the opposing team takes possession of the ball at their 20-yard line. This rule includes kickoffs as well as missed field goals.
  • Quit interfering! The pass interference penalty in high school football (15 yards and an automatic first down) is assessed at the line of scrimmage, not the point of the foul. At the professional level, this penalty is assessed at the point of the foul.
  • Fumble! Or not. In high school football, the defenders may not return a failed extra point attempt for a score.
  • Overtime differences. Overtime rules vary widely from state to state. Sudden death, full overtime periods and even automatic tie rules appear in different areas of the country.
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