Imagine you were at your son’s high school football practice. He strapped on his helmet and rammed his developing brain into a brick wall.
Not once. Not twice. But dozens of times. Not exactly what you signed up for when you signed his permission slip, right?
This frightening activity is commonplace at many high school, pee-wee, and pop-warner football practices in the form of an archaic and inherently dangerous drill known as the “Oklahoma.” In my days as a standout edge rusher, Oklahoma was decreasing in usage, but I still participated in my fair share of drills.
Luckily, I suffered no cognitive ill effects. Did I mention that I used to play edge rusher?
Just kidding. That was a joke! However, what is not a joke is the brain trauma that results from Oklahoma.
In this article, I define the Oklahoma drill and its variations, explore its legalities and delineate its genuine dangers.
- In the traditional Oklahoma drill, a defender matches up against a blocker and a ball carrier, and the defender must shed the blocker and tackle the ball carrier.
- The drill is confined to a small space corridor, resulting in high-impact, helmet-to-helmet collisions.
- In May 2019, The NFL legislated the Oklahoma drill out of pro football; however, it remains legal in college, high school, and youth football.
What is Oklahoma Drill?
In the most prevalent variety of the Oklahoma, there is a defender matched against a blocker and ball carrier. 
The drill is confined to a small corridor of space, resulting in high-impact, helmet-to-helmet collisions. The corridor’s boundaries are usually marked off by pads or blocking bags, with the total area of the passage about three feet by nine feet.
When the whistle sounds, the drill begins, and the defender must shed the blocker and tackle the ball carrier. 
The video below demonstrates the drill at a 2013 Oklahoma Sooner spring practice:
Another popular variation of the Oklahoma drill involves two players lined up three yards opposite one another in the same small corridor as above.
At the whistle, two players rush toward one another until one ends up on the ground or outside the boundary. 
At LSU, they call this variation of the Oklahoma drill the “Big Cat Drill.” 
The video below illustrates the Big Cat drill from a 2016 LSU spring practice:
The most dangerous version of the Oklahoma drill involves four players: a defender, a blocker, a ball carrier, and a linebacker.
The defender and blocker battle as above, while the linebacker must tackle the ball carrier within the small corridor.
The linebacker and ball carrier are initially separated by twenty yards ensuring that their collision occurs at full speed, a perfect recipe for disaster.
The below video depicts these violent collisions from a 2014 Wewoka High School football practice in Wewoka, Oklahoma:
Read more: WHAT IS A CHOP BLOCK AND WHY IS IT ILLEGAL?
How did Name Arise?
You may be wondering why the drill is called the “Oklahoma”?
The name dates back to the school where the drill originated.
The Oklahoma was invented by former Oklahoma Sooners head football coach Bud Wilkinson in 1947, hence the name “Oklahoma.”
In 1947, the Oklahoma was simply called the “one-on-one drill.”
But as the Sooners became a college football powerhouse, other coaches picked up the drill and brought it back to their own teams, where it was dubbed the “Oklahoma.” 
Is Oklahoma Drill Legal?
In May 2019, The NFL eliminated various high-contact drills from training-camp practices, including the Oklahoma drill.
While the NFL attempted to lead the way in making the sport safer at every level (so that people will choose to play it at every level) and hoped that college, high school, and youth football would do the same, such a trickle-down effect remains elusive. 
At the collegiate, high school, and pee-wee levels of football, the Oklahoma remains legal, and examples of egregious recklessness abound. 
For example, in the 2018 video below, members of the Castle High School football team in Newburgh, Indiana, run full speed at each other in a series of dangerous practice drills.
The kids begin running towards each other from a distance of 20 yards and collide helmet-to-helmet in a much more dangerous version of the Oklahoma drill:
The below video from 2020 illustrates a Michigan youth football program practicing the Oklahoma!
What sort of depraved individual forces six to eight-year-olds to engage in such activity?
Although some college, high school, and youth football coaches still practice the Oklahoma, it’s much less prevalent than it once was. 
What’s Wrong With Oklahoma Drill?
Unfortunately, many individuals still believe that the Oklahoma drill is a necessary rite of passage at all levels of football.
For example, In 2015, six-time Super Bowl champion and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick explained the Oklahoma drill answered specific questions for him when evaluating players:
“Who is a man? Who’s tough? Who’s going to hit somebody?” 
In fairness to Belichick, he is just one of many coaches that share such a misguided opinion, despite all the NFL-related CTE tragedies that increasingly populate our news feeds. 
However, in an article published by ESPN, even more troubling is that the Oklahoma is still a mainstay among high school and pee-wee players, those most vulnerable to brain injuries. 
Nerve cells in children’s brains lack the coating, insulation, and protection found in adult brains, rendering kids more susceptible to concussions and making repeat concussions exponentially more dangerous.
Kids also have disproportionately large, heavy heads and weaker necks that, compounded by the weight of a helmet, can hinder the control needed to avoid some concussions. 
In 2019, the NFL legislated the full-contact Oklahoma drill out of pro football.
It would be prudent and responsible for all lower levels of football to do the same.