The red cap some teams use to delineate which player not to hit during football practice doesn’t work for an entire team, so schools—from top-level universities to high school and younger—have taken a new approach to help reduce impacts of practice hits by turning to Georgia-based company Guardian.
The patterned soft-shell unit slides over any size helmet, providing, what the company claims, is a reduction of head impact by “up to 33%.”
Founders and graduates of Georgia-area schools Erin (Georgia State) and Lee (Georgia Tech) Hanson designed the cap to reduce the force of impact experienced during collisions for football and lacrosse players. The physics and design of the shell reduces force of impact by increasing the time of deceleration upon impact. Using the proper density and energy-absorbing properties, the soft shell conveys lower forces to the interior soft helmet padding and then, in turn, to the head. They say to think of it like a NASCAR driver who would rather crash into a soft, padded wall than one made entirely of concrete.
Georgia State head football coach Trent Miles says that checking out a product from Panthers graduates that upped safety for his players was an obvious choice. “If we can do anything to reduce risk, it is our responsibility to do the best thing for the student-athlete,” Miles says. “Part of safety is putting them in situations where they are going to be protected health wise and do everything you can to organize practice from conditioning to the way we do equipment.”
Miles has seen the benefits firsthand, and not just in relation to the head. “I saw a kid running with a helmet on and the safety was running to make the tackle and the guy slipped and the helmet hit right into the safety’s knee,” he says. “In the past that hasn’t been a very good result. With the Guardian pad, the helmet hit the kid’s knee and he bounced right up. That means a lot.”
As football has evolved, Miles says the equipment needs to evolve with it. The device slips over the helmet and snaps on. “It weighs ounces and stays on, Miles says, “you have no idea it is even on your helmet.”
Guardian has landed on more helmets this upcoming season, with schools such as Clemson adding the technology. Another first-time adopter is Georgia Tech. Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson says that he did his research before adopting Guardian for the 2016 season.
“I spoke with a lot of colleagues around the country that use Guardian Caps and received a lot of positive feedback so we decided to utilize them ourselves this fall,” he says. “Anything we can try to do to help reduce the impact of practice hits is a priority for us.”
Tim Newcomb covers sports aesthetics—stadiums to sneakers—and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.