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Youth and High School Tackle Football Glossary

From a breakdown of each position on the field to the roles of the officiating crew, explore this glossary to learn the ins-and-outs of youth and high school football.

Jump to: Player Positions  |  Officials  |  The Field  |  Equipment  |  Scoring  |  Timing  |  The Ball  |  Fouls  |  The Game

Player Positions


The leader of an offense, the quarterback huddles his or her teammates and lets them know which plays to run. During a play, the quarterback receives the snap from the center and then tries to advance the football toward the opponent’s end zone by running with the ball, handing it to a running back or completing a forward pass to a receiver.

Lined up in the middle of the offensive line, the center snaps the football between his or her legs to the quarterback to start each offensive play. The center is responsible for telling the other offensive linemen who to block.

Typically, the larger of the two running backs lined up behind the quarterback. The fullback often serves as an extra blocker for the halfback/tailback on running plays. He or she can either run with the ball or catch a forward pass on an offensive play. Fullbacks typically carry the ball when a strong running style is needed, such as when the offense only needs to gain a few yards for a first down or to score a touchdown from inside the opponent's five-yard line.

Similar to a tight end, an H-back is used as an extra blocker on running plays and also can catch passes from the quarterback. Where the tight end lines up at the end of the offensive line, an H-back lines up a few yards behind the offensive line in the “slot” between the end of the line of scrimmage and the nearest wide receiver.

Two guards line up on either side of the center on the offensive line and block oncoming pass rushers on passing plays or try to open running lanes for the running back on rushing plays.

Two tackles line up at each end of the basic offensive line formation outside of the guards. Tackles protect the quarterback on passing plays by blocking the opponent’s pass rushers and try to open lanes for the running backs on rushing plays.

Also called a halfback or a tailback, a running back is typically the primary ball carrier and the faster of the two backs lined up behind the quarterback in a standard formation. He or she can either run with the ball or catch a forward pass on an offensive play.

A tight end lines up on the end of the offensive line outside of the tackle and acts as an extra blocker on running plays or becomes a receiver on passing situations. A standard formation uses one tight end, though some offenses call for two.

Known for their speed and ability to catch the ball, wide receivers line up close to the sidelines on either side of the offensive line and run downfield and catch passes from the quarterback. A standard formation calls for two wide receivers, but some offenses use three, four, or five at a time.

Special Teams

The player who catches and sets the football on placekick attempts. The holder catches and sets the ball on one end so that the placekicker can kick the ball through the uprights on a field-goal or an extra-point attempt.

The special teams version of a center, the long snapper excels at accurately sending the ball backwards between his or her legs to the holder on kick attempts or the punter on fourth downs.

A specialized player who comes onto the field for field goals and extra point attempts. A team could use one kicker for all situations, or it could have a more accurate placekicker who kicks the ball through the uprights and a stronger-legged kickoff specialist who kicks the ball deep downfield on kickoffs.

Typically fast and elusive, these players catch the football after their opponent punts or kicks off and then attempts to run the ball toward the opponent's end zone. The returner’s objective is either to return it all the way to the end zone to score a touchdown, or to set up his or her team’s offense as close to the opponent’s goal line as possible.

A special teams player who enters the game on fourth downs to kick the ball to the other team after his or her team fails to gain enough yards for a first down and is too far away from the goalposts to attempt a field goal.


Cornerbacks line up in the defensive backfield across from wide receivers. In a standard defensive formation, there are two cornerbacks.

Lined up at each outside end of the defensive line, defensive ends try to force their way into the offensive backfield to pressure or sack the quarterback or to stop the running back.

Typically lined up on the defensive line opposite the guards, defensive tackles push into the offensive line to disrupt or stop a play in the opponent's backfield or try to prevent the offense from gaining yardage on running plays. In a 4-3 defense (four defensive linemen and three linebackers), there are two defensive tackles.

Lined up three to five yards behind the defensive linemen, linebackers support the linemen in stopping the runner on rushing plays, drop back into pass coverage on passing plays or they rush the quarterback.

A standard 4-3 defense features three linebackers, each with a unique role.

  • The middle or “mike” linebacker relays the play call from the coaches and tells his or her teammates where to line up before each play.
  • The strong side or “sam” linebacker lines up opposite the tight end and must be ready to cover the tight end on passing plays or take him or her on as a blocker on rushing plays.
  • The weak side or “will” linebacker lines up opposite the sam linebacker and pursues the plays toward the strong side or contains the play if it is a run toward the side of the offense without the tight end.

A defensive formation adopted in situations where the offense is expected to pass. A fifth defensive back is brought onto the field to cover opposing wide receivers, usually at the expense of a linebacker.

Lined up on the defensive line opposite the center, the nose guard pushes into the offensive line to disrupt or stop a play in the opponent's backfield or tries to keep the offense from gaining yardage on running plays. A nose guard is only used in a 3-4 defense (three defensive linemen and four linebackers).

Lined up about 10–15 yards from the line of scrimmage in the defensive backfield, safeties defend against the pass, provide support on rushing plays and occasionally rush into the offensive backfield to disrupt the play.

Standard defenses feature two types of safeties:

  • A free safety usually lines up farther away from the line of scrimmage and follows the ball, reacting to what the quarterback does. He or she is “free” to double cover another player and help the cornerback if needed.
  • A strong safety typically lines up closer to the line of scrimmage opposite the “strong side" of the offense — the side on which the tight end lines up.


The number of officials on the field depend on state regulations, but the most common high school football crews consist of four or five officials. In four-person crews, the back judge position is eliminated. The officiating crew acts as the third team on the field that enforces the rules of the game. Each official has specific responsibilities that account for all players, areas on the field, and activity on the team sidelines.

High School Officials

The referee, also known as the crew chief, is the leader of the officiating crew on and off the field. After the ball is spotted, the referee lines up approximately 10-15 yards from the line-of-scrimmage and five yards wide of the huddle. The referee maintains the pace of the game, signals all fouls and counts the offensive players on the field. The referee is differentiated from the rest of the officials by wearing a white cap.


The umpire maintains control at the line of scrimmage by watching for holding and blocking infractions. Lined up in the offensive backfield about 10–12 yards behind the line of scrimmage opposite the referee, the umpire also reviews players’ equipment, counts the number of offensive players on the field and marks offensive penalties.

The head linesman is responsible for the operation of the line-to-gain indicator and the down indicator. The Linesman always gives the signal for the chains to move and is known to be the most active official on the football field as they are involved in every play.

The line judge watches the line of scrimmage for offside and encroachment. After the ball is spotted, the line judge straddles the line of scrimmage one yard beyond the sideline and is responsible for plays along the entire sideline, while also counting the defense and communicating with the back judge.

The back judge focuses on players on the end of the offensive and defensive lines, counts the defensive players on the field and keeps track of the game clock and all television breaks.

Youth Football Officials

Typically, officiating crews for youth and middle school football consist of three game officials. This information varies per state and league.

The Field

The total length of a football field is 120 yards. The playing field is 100 yards (300 feet) long, and each end zone is 10 yards (30 feet) deep. The field is marked with a yard line every five yards, and every 10 yards is marked by a field number.

The standard football field is 360 feet by 160 feet wide. The primary difference among different levels of play is the space between the two sets of hash marks. Explore the dimensions of different high school fields with these diagrams:

Home team employees who use a 10-yard chain connected to two posts to help officials track where the ball should be placed, and what spot a team must reach for a first down.

The area on the defensive line of scrimmage where the linebackers and defensive backs line up. The term refers to the defensive “backs” who line up in the area of the field.

The area of the field between the line of scrimmage and the end zone where the offense runs plays to gain yards with the goal of scoring a touchdown or field goal.

The boundary lines at each end of the field that mark the end of the field at the back of the end zone. These lines run perpendicular to the sidelines and are located 10 yards beyond the goal lines.

The scoring areas at each end of the playing field bounded by the goal lines, end lines, and sidelines are known as the end zones. A player must carry the ball into, or catch the ball in, this area to score a touchdown. Each endzone measures 10 yards by 53 ⅓ yards.

The area between the sidelines and the end zones, which is considered to be “in bounds” and where all the action takes place.

Located at either end of the playing field, the goal lines mark where the field of play ends and where the end zones begin. The team with the ball has the goal of reaching and crossing these lines for a touchdown.

The goal posts are located at the center of the plane of each of the two end lines. The football goal crossbar is 10 feet high above the ground, with vertical uprights at the end of the crossbar 23 feet 4 inches.

Short lines that measure the field in one-yard intervals between the yard lines. Hash marks run the length of the field and are located 53 feet and four inches from each sideline and are used by the officials to determine where the ball should be placed.

The area behind the offensive line where the quarterback and running backs line up. The term refers to the offensive “backs” — the running back, halfback, fullback and quarterback — who line up in the area of the field.

The area formed by the quarterback’s blockers to prevent defensive players from sacking the passer.

The area on either side of the field where coaches and players not currently playing in the game stand.

The area between where the two offensive tackles line up before the snap.

The markings on the field used to measure distance on the football field. Yard lines are painted at five-yard intervals parallel to the goal lines.

The youth football field size varies per organization and age of the participant, but the most common size fields are the typical 100-yard field or the modified version of 80 by 40-yard field.


The standard “sneaker” type shoes players wear on game day. Cleats include studs on the bottom of each shoe that provide improved traction for players running on grass or turf.

The cage on the front of a player’s helmet that helps protect a player’s face from unnecessary risk of injury. Tackling a player by grabbing his or her face mask is forbidden and results in a penalty.

The equipment worn on a player’s head to help protect him or her from unnecessary risk of injury. Helmets were once made of leather and lacked protection for a player’s face. Today’s helmets are made to the highest safety standards possible.

The garment a player wears during a football game. Depending on the school, it will consist of the high school's name or youth league, number, and last name of the player. The jersey must cover all the pads and protective gear worn on his or her torso and upper arms.

To assist game officials, youth and high school players are encouraged to wear jersey numbers that align with their position when possible. However, players are often assigned numbers based more on the size and fit of the jersey rather than the number that represents a specific position.

All youth and high school football players are required to wear hip pads, tailbone protector, knee pads, shoulder pads, thigh guards and mouth guards. All equipment should be unaltered from the manufacturer’s original design and production.

The uniform includes all of the equipment a player wears on the field. This includes the helmet, pads and all protective gear, pants, jerseys, wristbands, gloves, stockings, shoes, undergarments and accessories like hand towels.


The most valuable score in football is worth six points. A player scores a touchdown if he/she carries the ball across the goal line into the other team’s end zone or catches the ball within the opponent’s end zone.

After scoring a touchdown, a team can opt to attempt to have its placekicker kick the ball over the crossbar and through the uprights – just like a field goal – to earn one additional point. The ball is snapped from the three-yard line for the attempt and the kick is equivalent to about a 20-yard field goal.

This scoring play is worth three points, a team scores a field goal when a kicker kicks the ball from the field of play over the crossbar and between the uprights.

Worth two points, the defense can score a safety by tackling the offensive player who has the football behind his or her own goal line or by making him/her run or fumble the ball out of bounds behind his or her goal line. It is also a safety if the offense commits a penalty in its own end zone.

After scoring a touchdown, an offense can opt to run one play from the defense’s two-yard line to try to earn two additional points. The team earns the points if a runner carries the ball across the goal line or catches the ball within the end zone, just like scoring a touchdown.


Halftime is the intermission period between the second and third quarters. During halftime, both teams leave the field to prepare for the second half of the game.

At the end of a play, or after time stoppages and game delays, the play clock indicates the amount of time the offense must snap the ball to start the next play.

High school football games are divided into four 12-minute quarters. For young football players (ages 6-12), the games are typically divided into four 8-minute quarters.

A game may be legally stopped at any time, either by one of the teams or by an official. Each team is granted three timeouts in each half of a game that can be used to strategically stop the clock. Officials can also call timeouts as needed to measure first-down yardage, if a player is injured, or when playing time is being used up by an unintentional delay.

The Ball

High School Football

The ball must meet the following specifications:

  1. A tan colored cover consisting of either pebbled-grain, cowhide or approved composition (leather or rubber) case without corrugations other than those formed by natural seam grooves and the lace on one of the grooves. (NFHS)
  2. One set of either eight or twelve evenly spaced laces. The length of the lace shall be confined to within 3 ¾ inches from each end of the ball
  3. Inflated to a pressure of 12 ½ to 13 ½ psi (pounds per square inch) or 878.8 to 949.1 grams per square centimeter

Youth Football

The ball shall be of a good grade leather, rubber or composite material with specification varying per age of the athlete.

This size football is designed for the youngest football players as it is made for a young child to grip.

  • Ages: 6-9
  • Average Weight: 10 Ounces
  • Long Circumference: 24 inches
  • Short Circumference: 17.5 inches

This is the next size as the child graduates from using the pee wee football.

  • Ages: 9-12
  • Average Weight: 11 ounces
  • Long Circumference: 25 inches
  • Short Circumference: 18.5 inches
  • Ages: 12-14
  • Average Weight: 12.5 ounces
  • Long Circumference: 26.25 inches
  • Short Circumference: 19.25 inches


When either the offense or defense violates the rules of the game, they are assessed a penalty. The teams recognize that a penalty has been called when a game official throws a yellow flag on the field.

Occurs in the time interval after a down has ended and before the ball again becomes live via a snap or free kick.

When a defensive player enters the neutral zone and contacts an offensive player or the ball prior to the snap, or interferes with the ball during the snap, it is encroachment and the play is dead immediately.

A foul that occurs after the ball is snapped until the play is whistled dead.

A player is offside when any part of his or her body is in the neutral zone or beyond the free kick line before the ball is put in play, resulting in a five-yard penalty.

Any non-contact act contrary to the generally understood principles of sportsmanship. Unsportsmanlike conduct results in a 15-yard penalty.

The Game

A catch occurs when a forward pass is completed (by the offense) or intercepted (by the defense). The player must be inbounds with at least one foot on the ground and must establish control of the ball.

The coin toss is a pre-game ritual where the referee flips a coin and the captain of the visiting team calls heads or tails. The coin toss determines who kicks off to start the game, who gets the ball first and in which end zone the defense will defend first.

Approximately three to five minutes (or as directed by the state association) before game time, game officials escort to midfield the captain(s) of the team whose team box is on the side opposite the line-to-gain indicator to conduct the coin toss. 

The ball is considered “dead” during stoppages in play, between downs and during timeouts.

The team trying to prevent the offense from scoring.

A down is the period of action that begins when the ball is put in play and ends when the ball is declared dead. Most downs start with a snap from scrimmage, but kickoffs and safety kicks start when the ball is struck. An offense has four downs or fewer to advance the 10 yards required to gain a first down, which allows them to maintain possession and earns them another four downs. The initial down in a series of downs is called a first down. Subsequent downs are numbered sequentially — second, third or fourth. In high school football, any ball-carrier who touches the ground with any body part except the hands or feet is ruled down.

Eligible receivers include:

  • All defensive players
  • Quarterbacks
  • Punters
  • Placekickers
  • Running backs
  • Tight ends
  • H-backs
  • Wide receivers

A player in position to receive a punt can signal for a fair catch by raising one arm above his or her head and waving it from side to side. Once the receiver signals for a fair catch, he or she cannot advance the ball and the play is over when he or she catches the ball and the opponent may not interfere with or tackle him or her.

A forward pass occurs when an offensive player, usually the quarterback, throws the football from behind the line of scrimmage toward an eligible receiver on the same team with the intent of advancing downfield toward the opponent’s goal line.

The point on the field where the forward momentum of a player who is in possession of the football is stopped by a defender or by going out of bounds. A player is awarded the most forward spot the runner reached when the ball is declared dead even if he or she is pushed backward.

Any kickoff or punt in which one team kicks the ball to the other to start a possession at the beginning of either half, after a score or safety, or after a defensive stop.

A turnover that occurs when any player who is in possession of the football drops it during a play. Once a player fumbles, either team can recover the football.

A handoff occurs when a quarterback hands the ball to a teammate, most commonly the tail back, who attempts to advance the football downfield towards the opponent’s end zone.

The place on the field where players meet to discuss the instructions for the upcoming play. 

A player who cannot legally catch a forward pass.

A turnover that occurs when a defensive player catches a forward pass thrown by the offense resulting in a change of possession.

A kick that puts the ball in play at the start of each half, at the start of overtime, after each Try, and after a successful field goal. The play at the beginning of each half or following most scores that starts the action. One team lines up and free kicks the ball from their 40-yard line to the other team’s return specialist to start the next offensive series.

A pass that goes sideways or backwards. Unlike forward passes, a team may lateral as many times as it likes on any play, and laterals can occur anywhere on the field as long as they do not go forward.

A virtual line that extends from sideline to sideline that passes through the forward point of the ball after it has been made ready for play. The offense and defense line up on opposite sides of the line and cannot cross it until the ball is snapped for the next play.

The line to gain is the spot 10 yards downfield from where the ball is spotted for an offense’s first down. If an offense advances the football to the line to gain in their set of downs, they are awarded an additional first down.

A live ball that is not in any player’s possession that either team can recover.

Certain types of penalties on the offensive team can result in a loss of down where the offense will not be able to repeat the down and is assessed a yardage penalty. If this type of foul occurs on first down, for example, the yardage penalty will be assessed, and the next play will be second down.

A virtual area that runs from sideline to sideline bounded by the forward and backward points of the football after it has been made ready for play. The offense and defense line up on opposite sides of the neutral zone and cannot enter it until the ball is snapped for the next play.

When an offense lines up to run a play without first huddling. This is done to either conserve time or catch the defense off-guard and prevent them from making substitutions.

The team that is in possession of the ball and is trying to score.

A player is out of bounds when he or she touches any boundary line or touches anything — except a player, an official, or a pylon — that is on or outside a boundary line.

Any offensive player who attempts a forward pass.

A long underhanded toss, usually using both hands, from the quarterback to a running back on running plays.

A kick when a football is held stationary and upright, either by the “holder” or by a tee.

The team that controls the football and is attempting to advance downfield to score — or the player who is holding the ball during a play — has possession.

Almost always occurring on fourth down, a punt takes place when an offense is not likely to score or earn a first down. The offensive team will play it safe and punt the ball to its opponent and let its defense try to stop the opponent. A punt is a specific style of kick where the punter catches a snap from the long snapper, drops the ball and kicks it before it hits the ground.

Any player who is in possession of a live ball. 

The number and worded codes called by the quarterback in the huddle or at the line of scrimmage ahead of each play. Signals are also called by the defense, usually by a linebacker.

The backwards pass of the ball through the center's legs back to the quarterback, punter, or holder.

The signal called by the quarterback on which the ball is snapped to start a play from scrimmage.

The place on the field where the previous play ended or a penalty yardage was assessed where the referee places the ball. The spot establishes the line of scrimmage for the next play.

Where the referee places the ball to establish the line of scrimmage for the next play after penalty yardage is added or subtracted from the previous play.

Each team is allowed to play with 11 players on the field. All players may leave or enter the game as long as the ball is dead, but all substitutions must be complete before the next play begins.

A tackle occurs when a defensive player forces the player with the ball to the ground or out of bounds to stop the runner from advancing downfield and to end the play.

When a player downs the ball after a free kick behind one's own goal line, or the ball is kicked through the back of the end zone, the play is dead and the ball is spotted on the 20-yard line. Except for in Texas High School football as they follow UIL Rules.

When an opposing defense gains possession of the ball from the team on offense, usually by picking up a fumble or intercepting a forward pass.

When an offensive team fails to gain enough yards to earn a first down and another set of downs, they turn over the ball “on downs” and the opposing team gains possession of the ball where the last play ended.