Kansas University equipment manager Jeff Himes is in his 24th season with the school and has seen the technology of helmets improve dramatically.
“The old-style helmets really didn’t do a lot for a temple shot, a side shot,” Himes said. “Everything was pretty much (designed for) a forehead shot.”
Himes said football has evolved to more of a NASCAR-style helmet, which does a better job of protecting the whole head.
Safety features include an air pad around the jaw, the side of the head and then on the top of the head. There’s also a pad in the front and another air pocket in the back.
Each air pocket is inflated individually, so every player’s headgear fits exactly to his head.
KU uses two main types of helmets: Riddell’s Revolution and Revolution Speed. Himes said about 100 players were fitted with those styles.
Only about 10 still use old-style models — and almost half of those are kickers and punters.
“Those guys have just kind of what’s comfortable,” Himes said, “because sometimes, those (Revolution) helmets get a little heavy for a kicker.”
The Revolution and Revolution Speed come highly recommended, as a Virginia Tech study earlier this year rated 10 helmets for their ability to reduce the risks of concussions.
The Revolution Speed earned the best overall rating of five stars, while the Revolution earned a “Very Good” four-star ranking.
KU also was part of a test period last year with Riddell’s Revolution Speed 360, a less bulky option with two grooves that run down the middle. KU quarterback Jordan Webb used that style last season, and Himes said five to 10 KU players planned to use the model in the fall.
Many steps are taken to ensure the helmets are safe to use.
For one, Himes has student managers go through the locker room every day to make sure buckles are OK, air pockets are working properly and that there are no cracks in the shell.
KU players had three different helmets last season: one for games, one for practices, and a third alternative one used in the season finale against Missouri.
The game helmets are used for the 12 games during the season and in the 15 spring practices; the practice ones are only used for fall drills.
Both sets are sent in each year to be reconditioned, where they receive new padding, chinstraps, buckles and facemasks.
At KU, every helmet has a life span of four years; after that, it is discarded.
Both Lawrence high schools also have safety measures in place with their helmets.
Lawrence High coach Dirk Wedd said the school only uses the Riddell Revolution, which earned the four-star safety rating.
“That made me feel really good,” Wedd said. “I’ve done some studies myself and listened to a bunch of people about it, and I felt like we were on the right track.”
LHS gets a dozen new helmets each year that go into a rotation before keeping them for 10 years — the length of time for which they are certified.
They aren’t cheap. The Revolution model costs LHS between $175 and $195.
Free State, meanwhile, uses a combination of Riddell Revolution and Schutt helmets.
FSHS football coach Bob Lisher said keeping up with the latest information was a necessity.
About a decade ago, Free State bought Riddell’s VSR4s for its players; that same style received a one-star, or “Marginal,” ranking in the Virginia Tech study.
“They recommend you not wear those. So we don’t put our kids in those any more, and we’ve got 12 of them left,” Lisher said. “But those were top-of-the-line 10 years ago.”
Both high schools, like KU, have their helmets reconditioned following each year.