By Maurice Patton
Fans attending Friday’s Region 5-1A football opener between visiting Richland and Mt. Pleasant should be advised – those coverings adorning the helmets of Austin Seals and Ethan Beasley aren’t just fashion statements.
Since sustaining a concussion during his sophomore season, Beasley – the Tigers’ two-time all-state selection – has worn the Guardian Cap, a padded soft shell originally designed in 2010 for impact reduction according to its website.
Seals started wearing his this season, after suffering a head injury – the latest in a series — during the Raiders’ Class 1A state playoff loss at Huntingdon last year.
They are among the Midstate’s more prominent utilizers of the safety accessory, which began to show up in area gridiron programs approximately seven years ago.
While a number of programs at the high school, collegiate and professional levels wear the caps during practice – the NFL and its players’ association acted last month to permit its use among linemen – Seals and Beasley have taken the extra step to wear it during games.
“We currently have some clubs using them,” said Dr. Allen Sills, chief medical officer of the NFL. “(Through testing) we’ve found some beneficial aspects with some of the hits, a reduction in force.
“At the high school level, it can be an important component, but it’s got to be one component of the overall strategy of reducing contact. You want to think about how you practice, how contact is modified, technique. You have to make sure (the thought is not) ‘I’ve got this thing protecting my head, I can go use it as a battering ram’. You have to talk about how to not use the head. It’s a chain with many links.”
Beasley injured his head and neck during the Tigers’ 2018 matchup with visiting Summertown and was airlifted to Vanderbilt University Medical Center. In the aftermath, then-Mt. Pleasant assistant Ed Gillespie encouraged him to add the helmet cover.
“I’ve taken hits from some pretty big people. It’s helped out a lot,” he said. “As soon as I was eligible to come back, I put it on. I’ve got a black one and a red one. At home games, I usually wear the red one.
“I would definitely continue to wear it (past high school).”
Seals, like Beasley a senior, is still adapting to the Guardian cap. It clearly hasn’t had a negative impact, as he leads the area in rushing and comes off a 193-yard outing against Collinwood.
“I feel like it has most definitely helped me and kept me safe,” he said.
Safety and confidence are two areas where Richland coach Nick Patterson and Mt. Pleasant’s Bronson Bradley see the benefit.
“Nothing’s going to prevent a concussion, but I think for Ethan, a lot of his confidence came back when he had it on,” Bradley said.
“When I took this job over, as far as getting our numbers up, we had some folks that said that was a concern,” said Patterson, now in his fifth year at the Raider helm. “We set forth trying to get some to encourage some kids to come out.
“We’ve got four or five that wear them in practice. I wish we had the revenue to purchase them for the whole team as far as practice goes. I think they’re beneficial. You don’t necessarily 100 percent know, but I think it eases some minds. Every little bit you can do is beneficial.”
Maurice Patton is the editor for Southern Middle Tennessee Sports. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @mopatton_sports.