High school coaches are aware of concussions


High school coaches are aware of concussions

With all of the stories of head injuries being generated by professional football in recent months -- most notably the deaths of Dave Duerson and Junior Seau -- it was only natural that the controversial issue would trickle down to the high schools.

Veteran coaches Chris Andriano of Montini, Bill Mosel of Thornton, Bill Mitz of Jacobs, Ed Brucker of Marian Central and Frank Lenti of Mount Carmel have been aware of the concussion factor since helmets cost only 75 and coaches conducted three-a-days and didn't permit their players to drink water.

"The game has definitely changed," said Andriano, who has been coaching for 33 years. "We have never had a neck or spinal injury but we've had some concussions. But I can't think of any of our players who have had any kind of serious head problem over the last 30 years. We've always been very cautious and handled them the right way."

They concede the game is more physical than ever before, even at the high school level. And athletes are bigger, stronger and faster, thus increasing the possibility of serious injury in a violent, collision sport.

"We've been lucky," admits Mitz, who has had only one case of concussion in the last two years.

But they insist the percentage of concussionhead trauma or serious injury is reduced significantly by proper teaching of blocking and tackling techniques, purchase of the safest equipment on the market, reconditioning and re-certifying used equipment as well as conducting fewer contact drills and more controlled scrimmages.

Lenti, who has coached for 28 years, also advocates the use of form-fitted mouth guards designed by a dental company that has partnered with former Mount Carmel, Illinois and Pittsburgh Steelers standout Matt Cushing.

"We encourage our kids to invest in the form-fitted mouth guard," Lenti said. "Something that gets missed in all of the safety issues is having a good mouthpiece is important. A hit on the side of the jaw or under the chin causes shock to the brain as well as a hit to the helmet. This mouth guard helps the jaw absorb contact."

Mosel, a 30-year coaching veteran, has his players involved in an impact testing program, Baseline, which is affiliated with Ingalls Hospital in Harvey. In fact, all athletes in all sports at Thornton have their brain activities monitored by team trainers and team doctors through the program.

Baseline concussion testing is mandatory in many football and hockey programs across the country, from elementary schools to the pros. Such testing provides a baseline score of an athlete's attention span, working memory and reaction time. If the athlete suffers a concussion, he retakes the test. If there is a large decrease in the post-concussion score, the athlete is benched until the score increases.

"If we suspect a concussion, the information is available," Mosel said. "They can tell right away if anything is amiss. It is a preventative measure. It allows us to know what is going on."

"No one is sure about the percentage of athletes who have head issues. In the past, did we do a good job of educating athletes as to the symptoms? What is the percentage of all high school football players in the nation who get concussions? I'd like to know that statistic."

In the wake of the recent controversy that has surfaced over the DuersonSeau issues, the coaches claim parents haven't voiced concern wondering if they should prohibit their sons from participating in football because they fear for their safety.

"Always rule No. 1 is 'safety first,'" Lenti said. "We have always insisted that we have the best head gear money can buy. If a youngster breaks his collarbone because of a shoulder pad, that's one thing. But a head injury is something else."

Mitz, who has been coaching for 32 years, said the coaching staff and the trainers talk to parents in the preseason, educating them about concussions and other injuries.

"There is always a fear factor," Mitz said. "You always worry about your kids. God forbid you have to deal with a head injury. That's the terrible part of the game."

In his coast-to-coast travels to evaluate the nation's top football prospects, Chicago-based recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network said some parents are concerned but the athletes aren't.

"Not much will be done until someone dies, sad to say," Lemming said. "It has to start with the NFL. Colleges take their cue from the NFL and high schools take their cue from the colleges. There is a lot of talk but not much action.

"It reminds me of smokers. When the U.S. government finally said smoking caused cancer, something was done. At this time, the NFL says there is no proof that there are more concussions or brain damage. But it is obvious to anyone who monitors the game that players are getting bigger and stronger and faster and causing more head injuries with head-on collisions than 20 years ago."

While observing high school games from the sideline, Lemming said he sees many bone-jarring collisions.

"But the difference between high school and college is enormous with the speed and size and strength. It is scary when they collide head-on," he said.

"Officials have to change the game a little bit. Players should be suspended for one game for a head-on collision. All the rules are established to protect the quarterback, the most vulnerable position in football, but officials have to look at the safety of the game as a whole."

Brucker, who has been coaching for 40 years, and the others don't want to make light of a serious issue. They admit from time to time that they observe some coaches who teach defensive backs to dive at opponents' legs, increasing the chance of a knee striking the helmet and causing serious head injury.

But, to a man, they argue that the issue is blown out of proportion, that the media has chosen to sensationalize some stories, that it isn't a serious problem at the high school level and that spearing or using the head as a weapon isn't as much in vogue as it once was.

"Some people are over-reacting," Andriano said. "Look at all the kids who have played high school football. How many are injured? Teaching proper blocking and tackling techniques and making sure you are doing things the right way is what is most important. If a kid doesn't do the right technique, he is asking for trouble. Coaches need to be more precautionary and look different ways, like impact testing, to put people's minds at ease."

Brucker said: "These things may have happened back in the day and you might not have heard about them. When a kid suffered a sprained ankle, you just taped him up and he went out and played. Now you put a boot on his ankle and he's out for a month."

"What makes you question your practices, how you conduct your program, is you wonder if this is where it all begins," Mosel said. "I equate it to boxing. It isn't just one punch that triggers the head trauma problem but a combination of things. We were cautious before but we are more cautious now.

"The game will change but the game has always evolved. No one is sure about the percentage of athletes who have head issues. In the past, did we do a good job of educating athletes as to the symptoms? It isn't a badge of courage to hide things. When I started, it was common practice to scrimmage from start to finish. Now I worry about the number of contacts and blows to the head in a given day."

Terps announce Will Likely done for season with torn ACL


Terps announce Will Likely done for season with torn ACL

The collegiate career is over for one of the most exciting players in the Big Ten.

Maryland announced Friday that defensive back/return man Will Likely will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL.

Likely opted to delay his NFL future and return for his senior year this past offseason, and now his senior year is done earlier than he hoped.

Likely has 255 all-purpose yards this season, the vast majority of those coming on kick returns. But the all-conference defensive back was having another stellar season on defense, ranking third on the team with 32 total tackles, including four tackles for loss and a sack. He also had three pass break-ups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

In his four-year career, Likely racked up 2,233 kick-return yards and 875 punt-return yards, plus 120 yards from scrimmage on the offensive side of the ball. He intercepted six passes during the 2014 season and seven in his career. He scored six career touchdowns in the return game.

Last season, he earned All-Big Ten First Team honors and was named the conference's Return Specialist of the Year. He was an All-Big Ten First Team member in 2014, as well.

Likely hold the Maryland single-season records for the most interception-return yards and the most interception-return touchdowns. He holds the program single-game records for the most kick-return yards and the most punt-return yards, the latter — a 233-yard day against Richmond last season — also broke the Big Ten record, one that stood for 76 years.

“In the short time I’ve been here at Maryland, I understand and have a great appreciation for the significant impact Will Likely has had on our football program,” Maryland head coach DJ Durkin said in the announcement, his quotes published by the Washington Post. “Will was one of the first people I met with when I accepted this job, and it was quickly apparent how much he meant to his teammates and Maryland football.

“He will continue to play a vital role in our program as we lean on him for his leadership and experience. I am confident Will has the work ethic, drive and focus to overcome this injury and continue his football career at the next level.”

White Sox: Chris Getz's new player development role is to carry out 'vision of the scouts'

White Sox: Chris Getz's new player development role is to carry out 'vision of the scouts'

He may be limited on experience, but Chris Getz already has a strong idea about player development.

Getz -- who on Friday was named the White Sox director of player development -- worked the past two seasons as an assistant to baseball operations in player development for the Kansas City Royals. A fourth-round pick of the White Sox in the 2005 amateur draft, Getz replaces Nick Capra, who earlier this month was named the team’s third-base coach. A quick learner whom a baseball source said the Royals hoped to retain, Getz described his new position as being “very task oriented.”

“(The job) is carrying out the vision of the scouts,” Getz said. “The players identified by the scouts and then they are brought in and it’s a commitment by both the player and staff members to create an environment for that player to reach their ceiling.

“It’s a daily process.”

Getz, a University of Michigan product, played for the White Sox in 2008 and 2009 before he was traded to the Royals in a package for Mark Teahen in 2010. Previously drafted by the White Sox in 2002, he described the organization as “something that always will be in my DNA.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]​

Getz stayed in Kansas City through 2013 and began to consider a front-office career as his playing career wound down. His final season in the majors was with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014.

Royals general manager Dayton Moore hired Getz as an assistant to baseball operations in January 2015 and he quickly developed a reputation as both highly intelligent and likeable, according to a club source.

“He is extremely well-regarded throughout the game, and we believe he is going to have a positive impact on the quality of play from rookie ball through Chicago,” GM Rick Hahn said.

Getz had as many as four assistant GMs ahead of him with the Royals, who couldn’t offer the same kind of position as the White Sox did. Getz spent the past week meeting with other members of the White Sox player development staff and soon will head to the team’s Dominican Republic academy. After that he’ll head to the Arizona Fall League as he becomes familiar with the department. Though he’s still relatively new, Getz knows what’s expected of his position.

“It’s focused on what’s in front of you,” Getz said. “Player development people are trying to get the player better every single day.”

“With that being said, the staff members need to be creative in their thinking. They need to be innovative at times. They need to know when to press the gas or pump the brakes. They need to be versatile in all these different areas.”