Softening the blow: Shadow Hills football using special device to reduce head injuries

Desert Sun (Palm Springs, CA)

October 7, 2021

They look a little funny, but nobody is laughing at the results.

Guardian Caps, a puffy, waffle-patterned soft shell that you attach to the top of a football helmet, are a popular new safety item for football players at all levels.

The Shadow Hills High School football team is the only desert high school to use the device, which helps prevent concussions and other head and neck injuries during practice. This is the first full season they are using them, and coach Alex Esquibel couldn’t be more effusive in his praise.

“Here we are five weeks into the season, and we’ve had zero concussions at any level (during practice), and that’s almost unheard of,” Esquibel said. “When I was hired (February 2020), this was one of the first things I brought to the athletic director was that I wanted to get these Guardian Caps. The kids were a little hesitant at first, because of how they look, but once they started to understand it, now they’re all on board.”

Senior captain Jesse Montez, who plays running back and linebacker, said he was one of those early doubters, but after about a week of using it, he became a fan.

“Everyone kind of didn’t like them at first just because of how they look, but I mean, now we see the grown-up side of how much it protects us,” he said. “We haven’t had any concussions or whiplash-type injuries, and also it strengthens your neck. It’s made a big difference for us.”

Guardian Caps are all the rage in the NFL and major college football. Almost every NFL team uses them for their offensive and defensive linemen during practice, and schools like Clemson, Penn State and Texas, to name a few, use them for their entire team.

The Guardian Cap, created in 2011 by a company called Guardian Sports, is made of a polyurethane foam. It comes in white, black or camouflage and attaches securely via snaps and straps to any football helmet.

According to the company’s website, it reduces the impact of a blow to the head by 33 percent. Montez can’t put a scientific percentage on it, but he knows it’s making a difference.

“It’s funny, I feel like when you get hit, you hear the big pop, but it’s not a big pop. You don’t feel it. It’s like getting hit with a pillow,” Montez said.

Senior offensive lineman Gio Guerrero, no stranger to helmet-to-helmet action in the trenches, is also a fan.

“I love it. As a sophomore, I remember getting hit in the head a couple times, and it left me a little out of it for a little bit, but these they really help a lot,” he said. “It took a couple days to get used to, but it definitely helps with concussions and … I can’t say anything else, but I love it.”

A single Guardian Cap can be purchased online for $59, but teams and schools can get a reduced price for buying in bulk. According to Shadow Hills athletic director Michael Walsh, they bought 160 of them — 110 for Shadow Hills student-athletes and 50 more for the Knights’ youth football program. The total cost was around $4,500 (just under $30 per cap) with that money coming from fundraising campaigns driven by Esquibel, team parents and the athletic booster club.

Walsh said when Esquibel brought the idea to him, he was all-in, and he’s been happy with the decision ever since. He considers it a worthwhile investment.

“More injuries occur during practice than in games, and we are taking steps to ensure the long-term health and safety of our players,” Walsh said. “We want to be as proactive as possible to put our students in the best position to compete on the field and in the classroom. I couldn’t be more proud of Coach Esquibel for having the vision and rallying the resources.”

The team, which has started the season 6-0 after going 1-4 in the spring, has noticed a few side benefits to the Guardian Caps other than player safety.

Esquibel said he believes the caps have helped the kids tackle properly more often. Players no longer lower their heads to make a hit. Also, the device, which weighs around 1.1 pounds, has helped the players strengthen their necks.

Montez said wearing the Guardian Cap all week actually helps on Friday nights. Think of it like a batting donut for a baseball player. You practice all week with this extra weight on your head, and then on Friday nights, you move faster and more freely.

“You feel like your head’s more on a swivel, you can see things and react to them quicker. That’s what it feels like to me, at least,” Montez said. “I think it helps. I haven’t seen a negative to it.”

And there’s one more reason Esquibel likes the Guardian Caps, and this one really makes him smile. It’s an excellent selling point for parents.

If a young football player is trying to decide which high school to attend, Esquibel can now boast this extra layer of safety.

“Parents are loving it, loving the fact that we’re trying to be as safe as possible for their kids,” Esquibel said. “Parents don’t want their kids to get hurt, obviously, and we can show them the Guardian Cap and explain it to them and that makes a difference.”

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