With trendy titles like Schutt Vengeance VTD, Xenith EPIC, and Riddell Revolution Speed, today’s football helmets sure seem like the real deal.
Helmet manufacturers boast slogans such as “Better fit, better comfort, better protection” (Xenith), and “King me: I am who you thought I was. Protect and perform” (Riddell).
They can also come at a hefty price.
But with growing concussion concerns at all levels of football today, area coaches and athletic directors say going for the best helmets is well worth the money.
Riddell’s Revolution Speed appears to be the helmet of choice in the area for the coming football season. The Speed helmet retails at $264 — a mid-range priced helmet that was given a five-star rating. According to Virginia Tech’s STAR evaluation system, helmets with more stars provide a reduction in concussion risk compared to helmets with less stars.
Most of Mount Airy’s football players will be sporting the Speed helmets this fall, transitioning from the Revolution, which received four stars.
Prior to that, the Bears used the Riddell VSR4, one still used by many NFL players. A couple of local coaches said the Revolution helmet was the one of the first helmets to sport a significantly different look. At least one Mount Airy player will be wearing a Riddell 360.
“(The Revolution) has a prolonged front that protects the jaw area,” Mount Airy athletic director and offensive line coach Donald Price said. “The Speed gives you the same safety protection around the jaw but it also gives you a wider vision area. It has a deeper cut in the eye area. All the elements are becoming more form fitting. The shell itself is more designed to replicate the contours of your head.”
North Surry head football coach Danny Lyons agreed that the Speed helmet seems to be the best helmet for the money.
“The Speed helmet is padded like no other helmet I’ve seen,” Lyons said. “It has a softer inside, and I would assume it absorbs hits better.”
It’s easy to break the bank when it comes to outfitting a football player, especially considering a $250 helmet might not be the most expensive piece of equipment to purchase. Some of Riddell’s better shoulder pads top out at $300.
“You can spend $500 on a kid from the shoulders up,” Surry Central head football coach Monty Southern said.
A Xenith EPIC helmet runs $300 and the Riddell 360 will cost you $375. The EPIC helmet features shock absorbers designed to release air to help minimize the sudden movement of the head during an impact.
With tight budgets, athletic directors have to be creative — buying a handful of new helmets each year as other helmets are phased out. Teams are required to send their helmets to the manufacturers each year to be re-conditioned and re-certified.
During the re-conditioning process, helmets are inspected for any hairline cracks or other defects, and if needed, interior padding and hardware are replaced.
Price said Riddell’s helmets are certified for a 10-year lifespan.
“We typically buy a dozen helmets every year. We bought 18 for this year,” Price said. “The Mount Airy Youth Foundation helps fund the helmets and shoulder pads. They are all about the safety of the children, and that is a big ticket item every year they know is going to occur. We have to pretty much lock that in knowing we’ve got to buy 12 helmets a year, and it will probably be $200 a helmet.”
Lyons said helmets and shoulder pads are a priority in the athletic budget.
“We have a fundraiser every fall to supplement our budget,” Lyons said. “A lot of that money goes toward buying that helmet.”
At East Surry, athletic director/defensive coordinator Randy Marion said a system is set up where freshman can buy their own helmets, and after their senior year, they get to keep them.
“We have probably about 15-20 kids that will buy their own helmets,” Marion said. “We’ll send those helmets off to have them re-conditioned each year and get the pads replaced. The school pays for that. Once they buy it, we take care of the re-conditioning. Last year we probably bought about 10 helmets for kids who couldn’t afford it.”
Last week, Mount Airy’s varsity players were fitted for helmets, and this week it was the junior varsity’s turn. According to the CDC’s Heads Up to Parents program, proper helmet-fitting can go a long way in reducing the risk of head injuries.
Southern said a handful of his football players bought their own Speed helmets. He said probably 70 percent go with the Riddell helmets and 30 percent use Schutt.
Southern and Lyons both noted while the right helmet is crucial, a well-fitted chinstrap and decent mouthguard are as important.
“I’ve always heard the No. 1 preventer against concussions is the right mouthpiece,” Lyons said.
“A quality mouthpiece,” Southern said. “That and kids don’t want to wear that chinstrap tight like it’s supposed to be. When you wear the chinstrap properly you should have trouble talking.
“We tell the kids if there’s something wrong with the helmet, let the coach know. What we monitor more is if the chinstrap is on right. I’ve seen two helmets crack in 18 years and it was in the jaw area.”
New technology continues to provide more information about brain injuries in football. One manufacturer plans to test new impact sensers on a prep football team in Arkansas. The sensers go inside the helmet, and record the rate of each hit, sending an alert to a handheld device on the sideline when there is a strong impact.