May 13—LARAMIE — During a Wyoming spring practice last month a drone hovered inside War Memorial Stadium filming the Pokes in action below.
Craig Bohl stopped in his tracks for a moment, as if to make sure Colorado State counterpart Jay Norvell wasn’t piloting the eye in the sky, before remembering the flyover had been approved for Riddell.
The partnership between the sports’ equipment company and UW has led to a significant reduction in high impacts for players.
As the Cowboys made it through their 2021 fall camp and the first month of the season relatively healthy, Bohl said the use of Riddell’s helmet technology had dramatically lessonsed head injuries within the program.
“All of our guys have helmets with sensors in it and things like that, and that’s allowed us to maybe alter some things in practice,” Bohl said. “We had one maybe, quasi-concussion, but I don’t know if that was completely confirmed, so that’s No. 1.”
Since 2019, the Pokes’ helmets have been equipped with a built-in monitoring system to track head impacts. Helmets are connected to Riddell’s InSite analytics subscription software, which allows the training staff to monitor head impact data on individual players and position groups.
“I think it’s really important for the program as a whole,” UW assistant football athletic trainer Erik Spencer said. “You can allow teams to be coachable and use it to work on technique to help improve the safety of the game. And we can continue to get a little better with it as far as getting that information on to coaches and whatnot.
“It’s definitely useful and it allows us to put numbers and kind of help show it from a different standpoint. Instead of saying, ‘Hey, you need to fix your technique,’ here’s the information telling you why we need to fix technique.”
During a post-practice interview last August, Bohl estimated UW had 28 diagnosed concussions throughout one fall camp early in his tenure.
Over the last three years, the head impact exposure for the Pokes has been reduced by about 42%, according to Matthew Shimshock, the sales manager of Riddell’s smart helmet technologies.
“And within that, I think coach (Bohl) would be the first to tell you, that’s not taking away from the intensity of their practices,” Shimshock said during a recent visit to Laramie. “They like to have their intensity, they like to go through their practices with game-like scenarios so they feel their players are ready to play. On top of that, it hasn’t affected their technique.
“They have lowered their head impact exposure year over year while maintaining the intensity and technique within their program that they want to have and think they need to have to be successful.”
Bohl’s philosophy is to dominate the line of scrimmage and control games with a physical running attack.
The data from InSite, which can specifically pinpoint what part of the helmet sustained impact on any given play, can assist coaches in teaching young players conditioned to lowering their heads in high school to change their technique to avoid tackling while leading with the crown of their helmets.
Offensive and defensive linemen, the players with the most impact head exposure, can be tracked on a play by play basis to make sure they are seeing what they are hitting.
UW can compare its individual and team numbers with Riddell’s national dataset of over 8 million recorded on-field head impacts.
“That’s something Wyoming in particular has seen extreme value in is setting benchmarks for themselves as a program year over year,” Shimshock said. “Setting benchmarks for position groups, and more importantly for individual players, so they can take a player through all four years he has been in the program and look at his impact profile to see, has he been lowering his head impact exposure on a yearly basis, season by season basis, daily basis.”
Riddell’s technology includes sensors that alert the training staff when a player sustains an atypical impact for his position. A diagnosis can then be made by the team’s medical staff.
Football is still a sport of violent collisions and all head injuries cannot be prevented. During the spring, Bohl reported that cornerback Deron Williams, a Wisconsin transfer, had suffered a concussion.
“We can look at that information, and if a guy has suffered a blow and is reporting symptoms, we can look at the magnitude of the hit and the location and the time and see if it does correlate,” Spencer said. “We had a student-athlete who said, ‘Yeah, I know who hit me.’ He was not diagnosed with a head injury, but he knew that one guy came across his face on a certain drill and he woke up the next day and said, ‘My neck is kind of sore because this guy hit me.’
“We were able to go back and look at the information and each one of them had an alert at the same time.”
Riddell is working with 1,000 programs at the college, high school and youth level. Having Bohl, the new president of the American Football Coaches Association, embracing the helmet technology to demonstrably cut down head impacts in his program, is a big enough deal for the company.
One worthy of getting the drone out to shoot a promotional video.
“Some coaches, if you talk about a sensor inside a football helmet, they say, ‘What is it going to do, tell me to hit less?'” said Shimshock, noting that it actually allows coaches to design practices to hit safer. “Coach Bohl has definitely grabbed the bull by the horns when it comes to this technology and this data.”
Follow YOUR beat writer Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn
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