LARAMIE — During spring training in Wyoming last month, a drone hovered at War Memorial Stadium and filmed the Pokes in action below.
Craig Bohl paused for a moment, as if to make sure his Colorado State counterpart, Jay Norvell, wasn’t raising the eye to the sky before remembering that Riddell’s transfer had been approved.
The partnership between the sporting goods company and UW has resulted in a significant reduction in the high levels of exposure for players.
As the Cowboys weathered their fall 2021 camp and the first month of the season relatively healthy, Bohl said the use of Riddell’s helmet technology has dramatically reduced head injuries within the program.
“All of our guys have helmets with sensors in them and stuff like that, and that allowed us to maybe change some things in practice,” said Bohl. “We might have had one, sort of a concussion, but I don’t know if that’s been fully confirmed, so that’s number 1.”
As of 2019, the Pokes’ helmets come with a built-in surveillance system to track headbutts. The helmets are linked to Riddell’s InSite Analytics subscription software, which allows training staff to monitor head impact data from individual players and position groups.
“I think it’s really important to the program as a whole,” said Erik Spencer, UW’s assistant football athletic coach. “They can allow teams to be coachable and thus work on tech to improve the safety of the game. And we can keep getting a little bit better with that in terms of getting that information out to trainers and whatnot.
“It’s definitely useful and allows us to call numbers and show it from a different angle. Instead of saying, “Hey, you need to fix your technique,” here is the information to tell you why we need to fix your technique.”
During a post-practice interview last August, Bohl estimated that UW had 28 diagnosed concussions at a fall camp early in his tenure.
According to Matthew Shimshock, director of sales for Riddell’s intelligent helmet technologies, head impact stress on the Pokes has been reduced by approximately 42% over the past three years.
“And I think Trainer (Bohl) would be the first to tell you that this doesn’t affect the intensity of your training,” Shimshock said during a recent visit to Laramie. “They like their intensity, they like to train with game-like scenarios so they feel like their players are ready to play. In addition, it has not affected their technique.
“They have reduced their head impact loads year after year while maintaining the intensity and technique in their program that they want and believe they need to be successful.”
Bohl’s philosophy is to dominate the line of scrimmage and control plays with a physical running attack.
InSite’s data, which can pinpoint which part of the helmet is having a lasting effect on a particular game, can help coaches teach young players who are conditioned in high school to put their heads down to change technique , to avoid attacking while wielding the crown of their helms.
Offensive and defensive linemen, the players with the heaviest hitting head loads, can be tracked from game to game to ensure they see what they’re hitting.
UW can compare its individual and team tally to Riddell’s national record of over 8 million headbutts recorded on the field.
“Wyoming, in particular, has placed a strong emphasis on setting standards for itself as a program year after year,” Shimshock said. “By setting benchmarks for position groups and, more importantly, for individual players so they can follow a player through all four years that he has been in the program and look at his impact profile, he has reduced his head impact load on an annual basis , season after season, every day.”
Riddell’s technology includes sensors that alert training staff if a player suffers an impact uncharacteristic of their position. A diagnosis can then be made by the team’s medical staff.
Soccer is still a high impact sport and all head injuries cannot be prevented. In the spring, Bohl reported that Wisconsin cornerback Deron Williams suffered a concussion.
“We can look at that information, and if a man has been hit and is reporting symptoms, we can look at the extent of the hit, the location and the time and see if it correlates,” Spencer said. “We had a student athlete who said, ‘Yeah, I know who hit me.’ He wasn’t diagnosed with a head injury, but he knew a guy had stepped on his face while doing a certain exercise, and he woke up the next day and said, ‘My neck is kind of sore because this guy hit me.’
“We could go back and look at the information and each of them had a warning at the same time.”
Riddell works with 1,000 programs at the college, high school and youth levels. For Bohl, the new president of the American Football Coaches Association, to add helmet technology to his program, which has been shown to reduce head impact, is a big deal for the company.
One worth getting the drone out to shoot a promotional video.
“Some coaches, if you talk about a sensor in a football helmet, say, ‘What’s it going to do, tell me to hit less?'” Shimshock said, noting that it actually allows coaches to develop practices to hit more safely. “Coach Bohl definitely took the bull by the horns with this technology and this data.”