Virginia Tech working on five year study focusing on head impacts in young football players

Posted at 9:47 PM, Feb 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-08 00:26:26-05

Nick Low, a junior at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach, has been playing football since second grade.

"Loved it ever since," he told NewsChannel 3.

But it's a game that's not always kind to those who play it.

"I've seen many of my teammates and friends around me experience concussions," Low said.

That got him thinking - what can be done to reduce the risk?

It led to a science project that he eventually took to the state competition a few years ago, testing how well different helmets stand up to big impacts.

"I was definitely surprised.  I was surprised at how much of a difference there was between the lower end helmet and the best helmet out in the market at the time," Low said.

It's the type of research Virginia Tech has been doing for years with adult helmets, but now they want to take a look at what kids are wearing.

They're currently working on a five year, $3.3 million study led by Dr. Stefan Duma.

"What we want to do is track a group of kids from 9 years old for five years to understand football and look for ways that we can make the game safer," Duma said.

They started the study this fall.  They're working with two other universities to follow kids on six teams.

It's the largest study of its kind to date.  With the data they collect they can do more research back in their lab to figure out which helmets reduce the risk the most and see if a different design is needed for young players.

They're also looking past the equipment to see if changes to the game itself can help and to figure out just how much of a risk kids are taking every time they take the field.

"That's the ultimate question - how many head impacts over what duration is something we should avoid? Duma said.

It's research they hope will help them better understand the game at the youth level, so they can make it safer for those who love to play it.