Head games: helmet safety a top priority for football team

Photo by Jamie Telander. The Concordia football team sports top-of-the-line helmets to ensure safety in practice and at games.

Concordia College head football coach Terry Horan and the rest of his staff expect their players to be tough. They expect them to give hits just as hard as they take them. They also expect them to put their own safety above all else. To make sure that happens, the coaching staff educates the team on the importance of fundamentals and helmet safety.

According to a study of football helmet safety and effectiveness conducted by John Lloyd and a team of researchers at BRAINS, Inc., the helmets the Cobber football team uses are all rated in the top five for protection “against concussion and axonal injury.”

“We use the best helmets on the market,” Horan said. “Our main ones are from the Riddell company. Riddell Revolution and Riddell Revolution Speed are probably their best helmets right now and that’s what we have the most of.”

“We’ve also got a few Schutt and Xenith helmets out there too, but Riddell is definitely the best and most popular helmet brand we’ve had,” added equipment manager Aaron Willits.

Lloyd’s study shows the Riddell Revolution and Riddell Revolution Speed both reduce head injuries by 80 percent compared to potential injuries on an unprotected head. Schutt and Xenith helmets also rank in the 80th percentile.

While this is great news for the coaches, Horan said that “helmets, even the best, can’t stop every concussion or injury.”

Junior outside linebacker, Taylor Main, can speak to this. He got a concussion on August 17th during a practice.

“I got hit really hard by a teammate,” Main said. “My job is to hit him before he hits me, but he head-butted me. Basically,  It would have happened regardless of the helmet I was wearing because I’ve taken plenty of hits, but after my teammate and I hit I was like, ‘my head really hurts.’”

This is where the fundamentals come into play.

“We teach the guys all the time, fundamentals are the most important part of going into a hit or taking one well, but also safely,” Horan said. “Their eyes and head have to be up. If their head’s down, that’s bad. That’s when we start to see injuries.”

Players have to have a “sound stance, keeping their knees bent and their feet shoulder-width apart.”

“Each week we do a lot of tackling circuits, which are different drills that emphasize tackling so the guys get comfortable with the techniques and get plenty of practice. It really comes down to having the right technique,” Horan added.

The coaching staff makes sure their players understand that “safety is important too.”

“They’re good about asking for more air in their helmets and making sure their chinstraps fit properly, even just for practice. I tell them that they need to get them fitted like they’re suiting up for game day,” Willits said.

“Yeah, we also make sure they know that if they get a haircut during the season, the helmet is going to fit differently, so we make sure they know they need to come in then and get it readjusted,” Horan said.

To ensure the highest quality helmets and best protection they can to their players, the coaches have Riddell come to Concordia once every season for helmet inspection, to check “for any deficiencies that could have come up through wear and tear.”

“They take all of the paint off of each helmet to make sure they don’t miss the cracks you wouldn’t see with the paint still on, and if there’s cracks, those ones automatically get replaced,” Horan said.

“We really try to go above and beyond, you know, to make sure our helmets are as safe as possible,” Willits said. “Most helmets have a ten year warranty on them, but we replace ours every year or two. It’s really important to us.”

The staff appreciates Riddell coming in each year because ”it really benefits everyone.”

“We are getting the best helmets, and Riddell learns a lot about what’s working and what isn’t so they can redesign their helmets to keep being the best,” Horan said.

“Helmet safety comes before anything else.”

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