The Ponte Vedra High School (PVHS) football team will be at the forefront of a new advancement in player safety when it opens the 2018 season.
The Sharks will be one of the first high school football teams in the country and the first in Florida to wear the VICIS ZERO1 helmets, which were first used last season by 18 NFL teams and 20 NCAA programs. The helmets, which just became available to high schools for the upcoming season, are designed to reduce impact forces much better than the traditional helmet.
PVHS football coach Matt Toblin said protecting student-athletes from head injuries is a big concern for his program, so coaches reached out to VICIS a few years ago when they first found out about the helmets.
“At that time, we were told they were not ready to release them to the public and that they were still in the testing phase, so we started to slowly put reserves away for when this became public,” Toblin said. “We’re lucky that our booster club has done such a good job of not only fundraising, but also preparing for a situation like this, so we were able to get the helmets.”
Overall, Toblin said the new helmets are part of an all-around push to make the game safer.
“There is no bigger threat to football right now than the threat of concussions, so not only do we need to change the way that we go about playing football, but any kind of equipment we can put on our kids that will help reduce the risk, we found that to be a proper investment,” he said.
The main difference in the helmet is that it boasts a deformable outer shell rather than the hard, plastic shell of the traditional helmet.
VICIS began as a technology company and was founded by a pediatric neurosurgeon, so it approached the design of its new helmet with technology in mind.
“We very much approached this as how do we create a fundamentally different way of mitigating impact forces,” said VICIS Vice President of Marketing Tony Titus. “The helmet is kind of like a car bumper with crumple zones that absorb and redirect energy by conforming to a structure.”
He said the company has a full-testing lab with state-of-the-art equipment, but the helmets were also independently tested by the NFL and ranked No. 1 in the league’s annual rankings.
“We wanted to make sure that it was designed to handle the game at its highest level first and then extend it into the high schools,” Titus said. “We’ve got high interest in every level of the game.”
Titus said PVHS has been very proactive in making the game safer for student-athletes.
“Ponte Vedra made a big commitment,” Titus said of the school becoming one of the first to equip its entire varsity team with the helmets. “It’s great to work with programs like that. It’s just a fantastic organization.”
Toblin said the helmets will have pretty much the same look as the previous ones, with a bit of a sleeker design and minimal modifications. But, he hopes the new helmets are a reflection of how much player safety means to the team.
“No helmet single-handedly can prevent a concussion, but we hope this is a sign of how important it is to us, how much effort and time we put into mitigating the risk,” Toblin said. “We practice differently than we did 10 years ago, and we play and coach differently than we did 10 years ago. We will leave no stone unturned in how to make the game safer.”