Will Guardian Caps be used more in CT high school football after NFL ruling on padded helmet shells?

CT Insider

May 20, 2024

They’re the padded shells worn over football helmets in hopes of providing added protection against head injuries. But to this point, the use of Guardian Caps hasn’t been widespread outside of practices.

That may change soon.

The NFL in April announced it will allow for the use of Guardian Caps in regular-season games, a move which follows two years after the NFL mandated the use of the protective headgear for players at specific positions during training camps. That mandate was extended to include regular-season practices for the 2023-24 season.

The rules adjustment is another step in the league’s long battle against head injuries, concussions and CTE, and several Connecticut high school football coaches said the new rule could eventually have a trickle down effect at lower levels of play.

While the NFL’s move towards Guardian Caps is more recent, the CIAC has long allowed schools the option of using the headgear.

CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini likened it to the CIAC’s long-standing mandate on the use of neck laceration protectors in ice hockey, with the NFHS now mandating their use as well.

At least one Connecticut football coach said the CIAC and NEPSAC, the governing body for private school sports in the state, should mandate the use of Guardian Caps.

“I’m 100 percent in favor of them,” said Hamden Hall coach Joe Linta, who has been an NFL agent for more than two decades. “I have purposely toned down our practice over the years to mimic the NFL’s with regard to hitting during practices. The caps could easily be a mandate for high school ball as there is no commercialization in high school sports like the NFL. The CIAC and NEPSAC should move immediately to make them mandatory.”

Jeff Miller, the NFL VP overseeing Player Health and Safety, said the league saw a decrease in concussions when players wore the protective headgear.

“We now have two years of data showing significant concussion reductions among players who wear Guardian Caps during practice so players will be permitted to wear the cap during games this upcoming season,” Miller told NFL.com. “Additionally, there are new helmets this year that provide as much – if not more – protection than a different helmet model paired with a Guardian Cap. These developments represent substantial progress in our efforts to make the game safer for players.”

According to the NFL, the Guardian Cap led to a reduction of at least 10 percent in severity of impact if one player was wearing the headgear. That increases to an at least 20 percent reduction in impact if both players were wearing them.

Guardian Caps are a soft-shell device which can be added to or removed from football helmets for practices, scrimmage or games.

In 2013, Staples football became the first Connecticut high school program to use the Guardian Caps. The Wreckers were then coached by Marce Petroccio, now with Trumbull, and Petroccio said “they were very helpful to us, no doubt.”

“We basically wore them three days a week, and the day before a game we took them off so the kids could get used to the fact they weren’t on anymore,” Petroccio said. “It definitely helped, but we still had concussions with them on. It was definitely helpful, it was good for the kids’ psyche and we used them to the best of our ability while I was there.”

Glastonbury has utilized Guardian Caps for three seasons. Coach Eric Hennessy said the program has been using them for practices and scrimmages and while they are not mandatory for games, players who choose to wear them would be fully supported.

“Although we lack comprehensive data, we’ve observed a significant decrease in concussions compared to the previous season without Guardian Caps,” Hennessy said. “This decline could be attributed to a combination of factors, including our coaching focus on removing the head from contact and the protective benefits of the caps.”

Chad Neal, Killingly’s coach for 19 years, said that anything that can help reduce head injuries is a good thing. His program added the caps halfway through last season and used them in practice. He said that it’s too early to tell how effective they were.

“However, if they are already mandated in NFL practices for some positions and used at the collegiate level, along with the research we feel they can only help decrease head injuries,” Neal said. “No players wore them in games last season, but it will be an option this upcoming season.”

Other programs also started using the caps last season, including Joel Barlow, Haddam-Killingworth and Kingswood Oxford, and all who responded to an email from GameTimeCT said the use of Guardians Caps was a positive.

“Any benefit we can provide the players that increases the safety we are all for,” Kingswood Oxford coach Brendan Batory said. “The data from the NFL level has created a trickle down effect to more and more teams using the caps in a wider capacity across all levels of play. We have not used them in scrimmages or games yet, but plan on increasing use to require in scrimmages and any player that elects for game use, we would encourage.”

“My AD and I discussed different technologies and equipment we could utilize to help lower the risk of head injuries, specifically concussions,” Haddam-Killingworth coach Tyler Wilcox said. “We decided to go with Guardian Caps and haven’t looked back. They are a great piece of equipment for our program.”

Some coaches voiced financial concerns with the caps, saying they could create an additional expense to some already-strained athletic and school budgets.

“Back then (in 2013), the Board of Education in Westport decided it was a good idea and paid for them,” Petroccio said. “They’re not cheap by any stretch of the imagination.”

The Guardian Sports website shows two football caps – a “current model” for $59.99 and an “NFL model” for $125.

“Like a lot of the changes the NFL and college football make, I’m sure at some point it will trickle down to high school in one form or another,” Shelton coach Mike DeFelice said. “It’s usually easier for the NFL to institute mandates like this because of the money they generate but for high school programs that are already struggling to get the bare necessities, this could be another financial hurdle for them to overcome.”

Coaches also cited other ways of reducing instances of head injuries such as limited contact practices, proper tackling techniques and overall increased awareness about concussions and CTE.

One thing many coaches agreed on: The more NFL players wear them in games, the more likely it is that younger players begin adding them to their gear.

“I do believe once kids see it at the NFL level – maybe their favorite player is wearing it,” Batory said, “and it becomes more of a normal event to wear in a game, there will be a spike in interest in wearing it at the high school level compared to now.”

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