BATON ROUGE - The LSU Tigers are using a cutting-edge technology to give back to the game of football.
More than 20 LSU football players wear the gear during practice and in games on Saturdays. It's a way for athletic trainers to keep an eye on the Tigers. When LSU takes the field in Tiger Stadium you probably won't notice the special piece of equipment among all the purple and gold.
"Really, aside from a blinking light there's no way to know that anything in this helmet is anything other than a standard padded helmet," said Curtis Cruz of the Head Health Network.
Football is a game of collisions. Now LSU trainers like Jack Marucci have a way to keep tabs on the Tigers and the many hits they take during hard-fought games.
"I think this was a vehicle to allow us to be again ahead of the game and to give us the information we want to see to protect the player," said Marucci.
It's a win-win deal between LSU and the Head Health Network that aims to use data to make football a safer sport. Cruz says the Head Health Network works with LSU, youth football in Atlanta and three other universities.
"What we're able to do is monitor impacts in a way and at a level of detail that you can't otherwise do," said Cruz.
The LSU helmet has more than 20 sensors built inside, and when a big hit happens that information is relayed from the field to the LSU sideline where the LSU athletic training staff can evaluate that player in real time.
"Sometimes you don't see it. You know, people always say you want to see that big hit and the guy goes down and it's obvious. But, it's the repetitive hits that we've found that have created some of the issues that can happen," said Marucci. "Sometimes they're in close-quarters where guys are getting hit, and this is a way to really take that guessing out of it."
So far trainers agree with the data they're seeing. It confirms that offensive and defensive lineman take the brunt of the bruises on the field. Trainers believe repetitive hits of linemen create micro-traumas in the brain.
"We're testing them after they hit a certain number does it affect their cognitive behavior, does it affect their decision making, does it affect their reaction time," said Marucci.
Coaches have also used the data to structure spring football practices to limit hits. Trainers say the data shows more concussions during spring practices than games in the fall. The team has also tweaked how some Tigers tackle to keep them safe.
"So we had a video...we tied it into the video. We showed where the player was coming across and he was bringing his head down, and he was really taking a lot of blows," said Marucci. "He was able to change his technique and be a lot more efficient player that way."
While the Tigers continue the helmet sensor trial run this season the Head Health Network plans to use the data to improve the game we love some much in Louisiana.
"We see very clear and consistent trends and what a spring practice looks like, what an in-season practice looks like, what a two-a-day looks like, what a game looks like, and we can better identify and say OK maybe this is too much, this is maybe just right, this is maybe something that can be shared with other people and implemented across the board," said Cruz.
The Head Health Network plans to continue its partnership with LSU while adding other colleges to the network. It's all in hopes that the helmet sensors will become a norm in football across the nation.