Notre Dame Football: How Irish are taking more safety measures regarding concussions

Justin Frommer
South Bend Tribune
Notre Dame football came back for their first practice at LaBar Practice Facility on Friday, August 5, 2022.

SOUTH BEND — How many concussions did former NFL linebacker, and current Notre Dame football defensive graduate assistant James Laurinaitis have during his career? It depends on what doctor is asked.

Laurinaitis though can recall one during his final football season.

"Everyone reacts to them differently," Laurinaitis said following Notre Dame's Monday fall camp practice. "Thankfully I have never had forgetfulness, fatigue or any workout exertion after having one. Even on the one that I thought I had."

Laurinaitis said he had past teammates ask him the same questions 10 times in a row within two-minute span due to head trauma effects. His career, from 2009-2016, was in the midst of a football era when revealing headaches and lingering issues was a sign of weakness.

That's something Notre Dame, and in a larger scale football in general, have tried to eliminate with the increasing popularity of using Guardian helmet pads during practice.

In the three Irish fall camp practices media have observed, a handful of players have worn the extra padding, colored gold to match their helmets. A majority of the guys participating have come from Notre Dame's linebacker room, including Bo Bauer, Jack Kiser, JD Bertrand, Marist Liufau, Junior Tuihalamaka, Will Schweitzer, Jaylen Sneed and Tre Reader.

Isaiah Foskey, Audric Estime, Clarence Lewis, Alexander Ehrensberger and Nana Osafo-Mensah have also participated in some capacity.

"We got a presentation about concussion protocol and awareness and we were alerted that it was an option," Kiser said. "We have seen the NFL has required it in training camp and it’s an individual decision. The older guys were like, ‘Why not give it a try. Let’s try it out.’ The younger guys kind of went along with it. But it is not a unit or a coach pushing anything. It is individual, give it a shot. If there is something that is going to help me stay healthy, why not utilize it."

The Guardian caps, "the leading soft shell helmet cover engineered for impact reduction", according to its website, has resulted in at least a 10% reduction in severity of impact if one player was wearing it, and at least a 20% reduction in impact if two players in a collision were wearing it, according to the NFL.

That data played a big part in the decision of many of Notre Dame's players.

"I mean, they are doing it in the pros," Liufau said. "I figured I might as well give it a try, too. I think it adds extra protection and if it ends up being that it does add extra protection and everyone should wear it, then I am just step ahead."

According to the Guardian Sports website, the cap was created in 2010 by Erin and Lee Handson, owners of The Hanson Group LLC. In recent years the caps have grown in popularity at both the NFL and college level after data showed reduced impact severity.

Guardian has listed 20-plus major college football programs that utilize the caps. Among those listed is Clemson, Oklahoma, Alabama, Oregon, Penn State, Georgia, Southern California, Michigan State and Stanford.

The padding gives a little goofier, bigger-head look to those who have worn it. Some players said it has added some extra weight to their helmets, and in some cases, has added some heat, which was further affected due to Friday and Saturday's practice temperatures and humidity.

But those minor inconveniences don't outweigh the safety factors many of the Irish linebackers took into account.

"I think we are all pretty similar in the fact that we want to protect ourselves," Bauer said. "We didn’t go to Notre Dame to lose our brain. I love football ,but I still want to protect myself. I figured if the NFL is going to mandate it, there is something there that is going to make the Guardian cap more worth it."

When it comes to in-season, defensive coordinator Al Golden doesn't perceive as much of a need for them, due to the team having less contact practices compared to fall camp. Golden said Notre Dame won't hit on Sundays, Mondays, Thursdays or Fridays once games get going, compared to four consecutive days of contact since fall camp opened this past Friday.

So, as the team prepares for its season opener at Ohio State on Sep. 3, the goal is to reduce the repetitive hits, which Golden, Laurinaitis and the entire Notre Dame staff have bought into.

"I know from a linebacker standpoint, those are the ones that we try to eliminate from happening everyday and I think the Guardians are helping from that standpoint," Golden said. "They (the players) all made their own decisions. I think probably the fact that some of the leaders had them on early, the number multiplied because the leaders wanted to do it.

"If it keeps us healthy and allows this defense to stay intact for the long-haul, I am in, man. Let’s go."