Chisholm head football coach Joey Reinart stood near the equipment shed just before an Oct. 16 walk-through practice. "It's crazy how everything's evolved,” he said.
Reinart was talking about the advancement of safety in the game of football. Even in the last few years, the evolution behind helmet safety has grown astronomically.
"No doubt about it," he said.
With the threat of concussions being an ever-present threat surrounding the game, helmet makers like Schutt and Riddell have dedicated their efforts to making their helmets safer from the inside out using cutting edge technology and research.
VICIS, a Seattle-based startup, produces the ZERO1 helmet which ranks as one of the safest helmets on the market. Its helmet is made with an outer shell that absorbs contact by morphing with the impact, much like a car bumper would. Unlike other helmets, VICIS’ outer shell isn't made of hard plastic but rather a soft thermoplastic elastomer which helps soften the impact.
Pioneer head coach Gus Overstreet said he gives his players a hard time about how advanced their new helmets are and lets them hold the old helmet he wore. The weight difference is staggering.
“When I wore it, It was like a rock on top of my head, “Overstreet said. “These (new helmets) are as light as a feather ... They do a really good job of making sure there’s cushioning around the head unlike we were just out there beating our heads in with rocks.”
The ZERO1 is also constructed with a layer of flexible columns between the shell and the interior padding that gives the helmet the ability to morph with linear impact.
“The nature of the game nowadays, kids are bigger, faster, stronger,” said Waukomis head coach Mark Timberlake.” I mean, we have a kid that’s (6-feet-7), 335 pounds.”
Reinart said each company has its own set of tests that showcase the protection their respective helmets provide.
“Those companies are out there to be on the cutting edge of technology, to be the best they can to make sure they’re safe," Reinart said. "And sometimes, there’s trusting a little bit of that fact.”
Chisholm, Waukomis and Pioneer supply their players with a primary helmet manufacturer. Chisholm has mostly Riddell helmets, while Waukomis and Pioneer supply their teams with Schutt models.
The Longhorns primarily use the Riddell Speed and SpeedFlex models. Pioneer and Waukomis primarily use the Schutt F7. Overstreet said half his team is in an F7 model or the next model down.
“Eventually, we’re hoping to get everybody into an F7,” he said.
All of the models Chisholm, Pioneer and Waukomis use have five-star ratings and rank in the top 10 in the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab list. The F7 is No. 1.
While each team has a majority of a certain model or supplier, not every player wears the same helmet. Chisholm, for example, works with Riddell but has several players wearing VICIS helmets. Pioneer also used Riddell speed models.
“Not every kid fits into a Riddell,” Reinart said. “Not every kid fits into a Schutt. We make sure we have a little bit of a variation to fit that odd-shaped head.”
The Riddell helmets range in price between $339 and $403. The Schutt F7 ranges between $339 and $975. The VICIS Zero1 is priced around $950.
At the end of the season, Chisholm, Pioneer and Waukomis send their helmets to get refurbished and prepared for the next football season.
“I treat every helmet like it’s been in the trenches every day,” Overstreet said.
Reinart said a Riddell rep will review the Riddell helmets and give him a rundown of what’s needed in addition to a reconditioning, such as a replacement of parts or replacement of the helmet altogether.
The VICIS helmets, Reinart said, will be sent back to the company for reconditioning.
“Every so often, there are some helmets that fall out of rotation and just can’t be reconditioned anymore,” Reinart said. “So, we will, again, go and figure out what’s best for our kids and what fits them, and stay on the top end of those helmets.”
Overstreet said he replaces about five helmets per year.
“That’s the thing I’ve always done,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s more than that.”
When Overstreet started playing high school football, Riddell released the first edition of its Revolution model. At the time, the Revolution model was considered the cutting edge of football helmets.
“They actually had the good cushioning all around the head and you could air everything up,” Overstreet said.
Overstreet wore the Revolution model during his junior and senior years of high school.
“Just to feel how heavy compared to what it is now, it just amazes me how much the helmets have changed so much in just a matter of less than 15 years,” he said.