People die playing football.

On October 22, 2015, Bogan High School was playing Chicago Vocational School in a Friday night battle for bragging rights. It was the last play of the game when Bogan senior Andre Smith took a bone crushing hit.  When he came off the field he collapsed at the team’s bench.  Doctors later said he suffered a blunt force head injury. Smith died the next morning.  

Smith’s story is one of many that has some asking if America should celebrate or jeer a sport that is promoting violence and savagery.  Can football be tamed? Hillcrest’s football staff think the sport is worth saving.

Hillcrest is taking steps to make football safer because they think there are important lessons for young men to learn in the sport. Coaches are teaching tackling techniques that allow players to keep their head out of the play, preventing unnecessary head or neck injuries. Concussions can occur frequently in football.

“Teaching proper tackling technique is very important,” said Zack Tysdal from Tysdal Chiropractic. “People don’t understand the seriousness of concussions, and that’s where they can get in trouble.” “Eyes through the thighs”, and “heads up” are a few tackling sayings, joining techniques, that Hillcrest players are being taught to implement on the field. The sayings call attention to actions that prevent dangerous and fatal concussions. Concussions that inhibit players abilities to participate and therefore limit the lessons they can take from football.

The “Hawk-tackling technique” is another tool that has also made it’s way into Hillcrest’s locker room. The technique is an initiative coming from the National Football League that teaches players to tackle by keeping their head on the backside of the opponent’s thigh. The name “Hawk-tackling” comes from the mascot of the professional team in Seattle, Washington, the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks were the first football team to incorporate this style of tackling into football. They are sharing videos, that were watched in the locker room at Hillcrest, to teach this method of tackling. All of this is being done in an effort to make football safer without ruining the lessons students can learn in the sport.

Another step Hillcrest took over the summer is purchasing higher quality equipment that provides more protective features. The Xenith football helmets provide better protection and ultimately reduce the number of concussions occurring in the sport.  Xenith helmets strap into a protective, shock-suspension, head-padding wrap that is separate from the shell of the helmet.  This allows a player’s head to move independently from the shell, mitigating dangerous rotational forces induced by major hits on the football field.

When speaking about the purpose of Hillcrest football, Steve Moline, who has been an assistant coach for eight years said, “Hillcrest football is about teaching discipline. We are trying to build men of character.” Taking shots and getting bumps and bruises is part of the sport, but what one decides to do after he gets knocked down is what builds character. That’s why many times at practice, Hillcrest coaches are throwing out phrases like, “When you get knocked down, get back up,” and “Never quit.”  

Coach Moline also talked about the bond players form when they face trials together. He identified hard work, and getting hit, in games or at practice, highlight a bond that shows up when teammates go through trials or hard hits that life brings. “Life’s not always easy. Every day is a battle, every play is a battle.  What I love about Hillcrest is you have that family, those brothers, that will battle with you every day no matter what.  And knowing those guys have your back is uplifting.”

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