By Zach Gilleland
On second-and-goal the Sea Gulls, on the brink of another touchdown, hand the ball off to senior Connor Canonico. Canonico pushed his way into the end zone, greeted by a swarm of teammates congratulating him on his first touchdown of the game.
Saturday was just another football game for Canonico, the super back who rushed for 129 yards on route to Salisbury’s 36-14 win over Kean University. However, no one at Sea Gull Stadium could have guessed that this was just Canonico’s second game back since receiving a concussion.
Concussions and their impact are a hot topic in the world of sports, most notably in football. The NFL has come under fire for its handling of concussions and reached a $1 billion settlement with over 20,000 former players earlier this year.
Repeated blows to the head can cause Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease. According to a New York Times article, neuroscientist Robert Stern, director of clinical research at Boston University’s CTE Center, examined 94 brains of deceased NFL players and found that 90 brains had CTE.
As the effects of concussions are becoming more and more known, sports teams across the professional, college, high school and youth levels are taking preventative measures to limit the amount of these injuries. The Ivy League, in one case, has banned tackling at football practices altogether.
At Salisbury University, football practices have also seen a big change from previous years. Head coach Sherman Wood said that the team has limited the amount of contact during practice.
In his 18 seasons as head coach at Salisbury, Wood has seen many concussions throughout the years. He said that the coaches work very close with athletic trainers who attend workshops and professional development seminars to make sure that players are going through the correct protocol when they have concussions.
“One of the things we are trying to do as a coaching association to prevent [concussions] is to make sure there is less tackling in practice,” Wood said. “We have decided to have one tackling day as opposed to back in the day where there were two to three tackling days.”
Wood also said that during preseason, players are subjected to concussion tests to see if they have received a concussion before. Wood said that the best way to deal with concussions is to start at the youth level.
“Each summer we as a coaching staff go to the salvation army,” Wood said. “We work with the Fruitland Falcons, we have local clinics and we talk to the coaches about the importance of preventing head injuries.”
The equipment has also received an upgrade throughout the years. Wood says the helmets used for Salisbury football are from Riddell, the exact helmets that Division I power Notre Dame uses.
When a player receives a concussion, they undergo the University’s five-day concussion protocol. Pat Lamboni, SU’s head athletic trainer, said common concussion symptoms can vary from headaches, fatigue, dizziness and overall not feeling well.
“The first step is to start our testing procedures; as soon as somebody says they have a concussion, they’re immediately eliminated from competition at least for that day,” Lamboni said. “Once they say they have a concussion, we start our symptom checklist—we have a series of tests that we do.”
“We do balance testing, eye-tracking testing, neurocognitive testing and we do paper-pencil testing.”
When a player receives a concussion, Lamboni said the likelihood of receiving another concussion increases.
“There is no set rule for how many concussions eliminates you,” Lamboni said. “We’re looking at that very hard, about when is the point that we stop somebody in a sport that is susceptible to concussions.”
“Nobody knows what the number is, it is really dependent on how the person recovers.”
Mary Tovornik, assistant athletic trainer, previously spent 10 years working football at Stony Brook University. Tovornik said the treatment for concussions has changed drastically, letting players rest before they are allowed to return to action.
“A concussion essentially institutes a lot of change in the brain chemicals so what you’re trying to do when you rest [players] is not put a lot of increased stress on the brain,” Tovornik said. “You are really just trying to let the brain calm down and you also don’t want to put them at risk for another concussion before the first concussion has resolved.”
The limiting of tackling and contact in practices has had a positive impact on SU’s football team. Lamboni said the team has seen a decrease in the amount of injuries since the change.
While limiting the amount of contact in practice has its challenges, as it is tougher to simulate the intensity of a football game without contact, the change has not hurt Salisbury’s success on the field. The Sea Gulls currently hold a 6-1 record this season and are tied for first-place in the New Jersey Athletic Conference.
For Canonico, he can attribute his quick return to the field to the athletic trainers at SU.
“They’re excellent, they really know what they are doing, they’ll really help you and they actually care for their athletes,” Canonico said. “They want to make sure you’re healthy first off and that you’re going to be ready to play. They’re outstanding.”