SEC football head coaches discuss using Guardian Caps for player safety

USA Today Sports Vols Wire

October 26, 2023

Guardian Caps have been a staple in football practices throughout the Southeastern Conference.

Guardian Cap is a leader in soft-shell helmet covers that are engineered for impact reduction. It uses padded, soft-shell technology on the outside of the decades old hard-shell football helmet. The product reduces impact up to 33 percent.

Guardian Caps are worn by 275-plus colleges, including all SEC schools, 3,000-plus high schools, 750-plus youth programs, 32 NFL teams and nine CFL teams. In 2023, the NFL and CFL have mandated Guardian Caps for contact practices.

Guardian Cap co-founder and CEO Erin Hanson discussed her vision to help players’ safety throughout football with Vols Wire.

“We started this whole project in 2010,” Hanson said. “Our whole goal in starting it was really to just help players across the board.”

During the 2023 season, 14 SEC football head coaches discussed with Vols Wire about their teams wearing Guardian Caps. Their analysis of Guardian Caps for player safety are listed below.

Zach Arnett (Mississippi State)

“You are seeing it all across football. The NFL, every position this year, they went to o-line, d-line, running backs, tight ends, linebackers. The NFL people spoke to all the SEC head coaches about the data they have, and they showed the benefits to it. Every team in the SEC wears them. As coaches, your guys work year-round for 12 opportunities to play, and nothing is more disappointing for a coach than to have a young man get injured and be unable to play because you see on a daily basis, the effort and work they go through to prepare themselves for those limited opportunities. It is heartbreaking to have a guy miss a game because of injury and in this particular case, Guardian Caps, if there is a product that can reduce that risk, there is not going to be a coach in America who is not supportive of that training aid.”

Shane Beamer (South Carolina)

“We have been wearing them for awhile. Other schools I have been, we wore them at other schools, as well. We are always about player safety and it is another layer of protection for our guys.”

Eliah Drinkwitz (Missouri)

“We were one of the first teams in the SEC to really wear those. Obviously, it reduces the impact on the helmet, and it has been a savior for us. We try to pride ourselves on being a physical football team in practice, but we really have been able to reduce the number of concussions that have occurred. It is something that when I was with coach (Dave) Doeren at NC State, we had something very similar, and I took that same approach at Appalachian State and carried it here. It has been a very beneficial thing for our program.”

Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M)

“I love them. We were one of the first schools to do them. We have been doing them since Florida State. I do think it makes a difference, especially on your offensive linemen, defensive linemen, front seven. Sometimes your skill guys it helps. I think sometimes those impacts become higher if they are ever hit because those guys are running farther, but I definitely do with the big guys and the front seven. We have done it for a long time and totally believe in them.”

Hugh Freeze (Auburn)

“At our SEC head coaches meeting, several years ago, and even at Liberty, there were some stats shown that kind of caught my attention. I felt like it decreased it considerably, particularly among the o-line, d-line, linebackers and running backs. If anything that I think has potential to increase the safety of our players, I’m all in on. If it has the possibility, which I believe they do, to increase the safety of our players, in practice, I’m going to do that every time.”

Josh Heupel (Tennessee)

“It’s something that I had not used as an assistant, and when I got to UCF I was interested in and they had been using previously. It’s something that as we came here they were using it consistently. At the end of the day, every coach in the country, head coach and assistants, you’re trying to get the work that you need in over the course of training camp or practice during the week. At the same time, you’re trying to take care of your players. As we found more out about this game and how to keep their heads healthy, you’re looking for every advantage to put your players in the best position to be safe. We’ve been using it here. We do see that it’s limited. The things that happen, in particular over the course of training camp, and the long term research that’s taken place, a lot of it through the NFL, just repetitive hits and how that affects you long term during your life potentially, we feel like it’s definitely the right thing to do and use to make sure we’re taking care of our players the best way we can. Our medical staff, our training staff, do a great job of continuing to track all that information and make sure we’re staying up to date.”

Brian Kelly (LSU)

“We did not have the data at Notre Dame that now is available through the research that has been done with the NFL. That research and that data is now available as of last year. If I had the data, I probably would have worn them at Notre Dame, as well. The data, in terms of incident of head injury in practice and in preseason, was just so compelling that we included them on all of our linemen, linebackers, tight ends and running backs, and paved to be a very effective tool for us in our practicing.”

Lane Kiffin (Ole Miss)

“We wear them all the time and studies show it helps concussion numbers, obviously as soon as we were told that, we purchased them and use them every day.”

Clark Lea (Vanderbilt)

“We wear it. The NFL data is what we lean on to kind of give us the best understanding of how that instrument helps reduce impact on collisions to the head. We waited until we felt like there was data present, and once the NFL started to incorporate it, it seemed like anything we could do to limit the collision and take a little bit of the impact off our players, we’re going to do it. That’s the reason we wear them. We feel like the Guardian Cap, there is enough science out there that says it will be helpful for us, so we are going to use it.”

Billy Napier (Florida)

“We’ve kind of subscribed to that theory for several years now. Obviously, the NFL has done tremendous research there, it’s been effective. Each one of our players is wearing them in a practice setting now, and I do think we’ve seen some benefit there. Player-safety’s a big deal. I think our game continues to be popular and it’s important that we protect our game, and certainly the player-safety element, as we get more information and continue to learn via technology that maybe we have access to that we didn’t have even one, two, three, four, five years ago. I know for me personally, I could have benefitted from a Guardian Cap in my day, so it’s been great. It’s a great equipment, great product, and it’s made our players more safe.”

Sam Pittman (Arkansas)

“We have cut down our concussions significantly in practice. I think we went the entire spring ball and did not have one last year. I think a lot of it has to do with on days, off days, on days. I think concussions rise as you have consecutive practices and consecutive hitting practices, so I think we have been educated on how far you can go there without having a spiders practice or a walkthrough, and some things like that. I think the education has helped us, as well, but I certainly believe in them. When coach (Barry) Odom was here, he was the one that really talked to me about them because they used them at Missouri when he was head coach up there. I think it’s really made a difference, it has in numbers.”

Nick Saban (Alabama)

“I think it has definitely helped. I know we read about even new technology, for some of the kind of shell things to wear on your helmet, always trying to keep up to date on that because player safety is the No. 1 concern that we have for all of our players, and that our trainers and doctors and everybody else has. Anything we can do to create a safer environment for them to practice in is something that we are always interested in.”

Kirby Smart (Georgia)

“We use them in practice, we use them in camp. I know last year, the NFL training camps, they felt like it reduced it, so they then added some of the skill positions to that, which we did too.”

Mark Stoops (Kentucky)

“I think they definitely help. We like them. I think, not only with the collisions and tackles, and the linemen, and things of that nature, but also with the skill guys. Sometimes there’s ways you could hurt your head by falling backwards and banging your head on the ground. I feel like it has helped.”

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