Frank Post was 12 years old, playing in a Pop Warner youth football game near Albany, New York, when he collided with another player on a kickoff.
While Post was OK, the other player was not, becoming paralyzed from the impact.
That incident stuck with Post, who is in his fifth season as an assistant coach with Braden River High’s football program.
It’s why he goes to coaching clinics and seminars every year to learn better and safer ways to tackle.
“It was always one of those things you always think about, so not being able to do that and try to get these kids’ eyes up and hopefully try to not have one of those happen,” Post said.
To further increase player safety at Braden River, Post applied for a grant through USA Football on July 2, 2018. By Aug. 1, it was approved and 10 of Riddell’s SpeedFlex helmets with InSite technology, valued at $500 per helmet, made their way to the East Manatee campus.
This year, the program raised money to outfit the entire team with the latest edition of the helmets, which tells the staff and athletic trainer the time, date and location of impact to the student-athlete.
They even snagged guardian caps for offensive and defensive lineman and linebackers to wear during practices.
Because player safety is paramount and critical, Post said.
Head coach Curt Bradley agreed.
“It’s important for us to take care of players, especially at a young age still developing, still growing,” Bradley said. “If you send a kid to a football program, you like to make sure they have the best equipment available. If it’s good enough for those guys on Saturdays and Sundays, then definitely is good enough for our kids.”
The guardian caps, introduced this season, have made a big difference toward player surface. They’re a soft cover over the helmet that reduces impact to the head.
“Majority of the contact happens Monday through Thursday,” Bradley said. “You’re taking 50, 60 reps a day in practice doing some physical drills. In the game, you might get tackled or on the offensive line you have a set number of plays you’re going to run, so that’s not the only time that they’re taking blows. ...
“So if you take 50 hits to the head over the course of four days of practice, now you’re looking at 200 hits to the head over the course of a week.”
Bradley, in his eighth season with the Pirates, has seen significant injuries during his tenure with Braden River. The first year, Chase Fisher suffered a spinal injury on a kickoff, while JoJo Louis had a scary neck injury in 2014 before returning healthy in Bradley’s fourth season (2015) as a core group of seniors to lead the Pirates to the state semifinals.
“You can’t control all those things, but what you can do is control what you can control,” Bradley said. “So whatever we can control, we’re going to try to control when it comes to player safety.”
It’s why the Pirates began using the Seattle Seahawks’ tackling technique that takes the head out of the play and have evolved it into more of a rugby-styled tackling method.
And it’s why they have the technology with Riddell’s InSite helmets to track how many high-impact hits are happening. The Pirates tracked more than 1,200 impacts last season with only 27 high magnitude impacts, which is a rate of 2.2 percent of all impacts.
Braden River isn’t the only public school in Manatee County using the InSite helmets. Lakewood Ranch got them in 2018, while Manatee began using them in 2017. Parrish Community High School, which opened this year, also has them. Southeast uses the Schutt F7 collegiate helmets.
“They take the concussion test at the beginning of the season and through our strength and conditioning program, we concentrate heavy on the neck to help reduce them as well,” Southeast head coach Brett Timmons said. “We limit deliberate contact to one, two times a week during the season.”
Bayshore head coach John Biezuns said they do baseline concussion testing and limit the amount of contact at practice.
Southeast also uses a tackling technique taking the head out of it. Palmeto follows FHSAA procedures for player safety.
In addition to all that, Manatee County athletic director Jason Montgomery said the county was the first one in the Tampa Bay area to require cold water immersion tubs at football games for heat illness as well as having full-time athletic trainers on site.
Earlier this summer, 14-year-old Hezekiah B. Walters, of Tampa’s Middleton High, died after collapsing from conditioning drills and had a body temperature of 102 degrees, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
“Player safety is a huge consideration in everything we do,” Montgomery said.
He added that the county’s football coaches go “above and beyond by getting to clinics, being tuned in to what the research trends are in player safety.”