Johns Hopkins safety Carter Hogg taking position to new level as inventor of protective headgear

The Baltimore Sun

February 19, 2024

Carter Hogg has had a love-hate relationship with football.

Hogg, who recently completed his sophomore year as a safety at Johns Hopkins, loves the sport’s camaraderie, physical standards and accountability. He also hates football’s impact on those who play it, such as torn ligaments, broken bones and head injuries.

Hogg can still recall his first brush with a serious injury as a seventh grader when he caught a pass and fell onto the back of his head “pretty hard.”

“It was a little scary,” he said, estimating he has suffered about 50 blows to his head. “I’ve taken a fair number of hard hits, but thankfully, have been fortunate enough to not have suffered a concussion that I know of.”

Hogg isn’t waiting for that day. He has invented G8RSkin, a balaclava-type apparel worn under the helmet that functions as a flexible neck brace and absorbs the energy from collisions to stabilize the neck and disperse the amount of force on the head.

According to a National Institutes of Health report published July 11, 2023, a study of 631 male brain donors who had previously played football showed about 46% had high-stage chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and another 26% had low-stage CTE. The analysis also determined that every 1,000 additional estimated strikes to the head added 21% increased odds of a CTE diagnosis and 13% increased odds of a severe CTE diagnosis.

Hogg’s product has attracted the backing of some of athletics’ movers and shakers in protective equipment and sports medicine. J.C. Wingo, founder of United Sports Lab and former chief operating officer and president of Riddell Sports, Inc., and San Francisco 49ers director of equipment operations Jay Brunetti are members of G8RTech’s advisory board, and USA Hockey and Fordham team physician Dr. Charles Popkin joined the company’s medical advisory committee.

“We need to do something to help save the game,” said Wingo, who was recently named chairman of the board of directors. “I know [the NFL and NCAA have] addressed a lot of good issues like limiting the amount of contact during the week, and I applaud them for that. But both of my boys would have worn this. They may have been a little hesitant at first, but I think once you explain to an athlete what this can do for you, I can’t see someone not wanting to put this on their child.”

Hogg’s fight to reduce the risk of concussions and other traumatic brain injuries is personal. His older brother F.J. played linebacker at Washington and Lee and during a game in 2021, he filled a gap and took a hit to the side of his head.

“They won the championship, and we have photos of him hoisting the trophy with his teammates, and if you ask him about it, he cannot remember that day at all,” Carter Hogg said, adding that the injury ended his brother’s career. “Not only did he have to go through the immediate aftermath of that concussion with the more common symptoms of the headaches and nausea and blurred vision, but he also had what was essentially a two-year-long period of recovery to get back to where he was before that hit.”

F.J. Hogg recently completed a half Ironman, but his ordeal inspired his younger brother to tap an entrepreneurial spirit passed down by grandfather Russell, who led Mastercard and introduced the Gold Card, and father Jason, who founded Revolution Money as a secure payment card company eventually acquired by American Express.

Carter Hogg began developing an idea in the spring of 2022 and worked on a design until unveiling a prototype in December that year. Rather than trying to alter or add to helmets, he focused on a garment that could be worn under them.

“You want to actively resist that motion so that the contact on the inside of the skull between the brain and skull is less severe or altogether removed,” he said, noting that it can be worn by those who participate in ice hockey, lacrosse and skiing. “But also being a football player myself and knowing how important it is to have that range of motion to be able to look around, I wanted to develop something that was completely flexible while playing the game.”

Hogg delivered the prototype to the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab, which tested the apparel and determined that the headgear reduced the risk of concussion by up to 61% in football, 83% in skiing and 87% in ice hockey. The Virginia Tech testing convinced Wingo to join the company shortly after meeting with Carter Hogg in April.

“Carter is really an exceptional person,” Wingo said. “To develop what he developed and understand the technology and understand the force levels that truly cause the brain inside that cranium to move, he’s quite unique.”

Dr. Claudia Dal Molin, director of musculoskeletal ultrasound education for the University of Maryland Medical System and former head team physician at UMBC and former team physician at Maryland, said she has questions about the company’s claims about the apparel’s effectiveness.

“That being said, if you look at bike helmets, there’s less regulation over that kind of stuff than football helmets, for instance,” she said. “And a lot of the data that we have for using that technology to assist in preventing concussions any way that we can does come from Virginia Tech’s lab. So the opposite side of the argument is that those lab measurements do correlate to real medical benefit.”

Dal Molin said one of her concerns is whether there is a slippage factor of the garment that affects how a variety of helmets interface with the head.

“That really is the million dollar question because if there are differences in terms of internal construction and texture that make the helmet fit and behave differently upon impact, then all of a sudden, those numbers are going to go out the window,” she said. “So the real answer is it may not be so applicable widely.”

Per information provided by G8RSkin, the headgear and helmet were tested via 24 hits under the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab protocols and 18 strikes under NFL protocol at the Southern Impact Research Center. The apparel was tested with four types of helmets, and there are 20 points of interface to ensure the garment fits snugly with a helmet and rotates properly with the head and neck, according to the company.

Hogg personally tested the product by wearing it this past season when the Blue Jays amassed a school record-tying 12 wins, their sixth 10-0 regular season and their 16th Centennial Conference title — the most by one school in that league — before falling to Randolph-Macon in the Division III quarterfinals.

“I took a couple hits that I knew how they would have felt if I wasn’t wearing it because I’ve taken similar ones in high school, and I was completely fine,” he said. “It was actually the first season when I had woken up after every single game and not had a sore neck.”

While G8RSkin covers the head, neck and shoulders, Hogg said the garment is cut with perforations to release body heat and cool the skin. There are also pockets in the fabric to hold cooling gel packs during particularly hot days.

Wingo said one of the bigger hurdles the company faces is convincing athletes to overlook the aesthetic look of the headgear.

“It’s unfortunate, but the most important thing when you get up to the highest level of play is, something has to pass the mirror test,” he said. “They have to look good in it. It really goes with looks, then it goes with comfort, then it goes with protection. I believe this has the opportunity to address all three of those.”

Hogg, who is majoring in economics and is considering adding another major in mathematics, said he is planning to relocate the company’s design team from Dallas to Baltimore so that he can work more closely with them during the school year. He said the objective is to have the product featured in major sports leagues such as the NFL, NHL and NCAA.

“Being able to help preserve all of these amazing sports is awesome,” he said. “It always feels great to work on something that can do some good for the world as a whole. It’s amazing to be able to be a part of the effort to help preserve the sport and allow for it to impact the next generation as I know it impacted myself and my family in a positive way.”

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