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Fighting Back: Patience a necessary headache for safety

Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series about serious injuries on Ohio’s athletic teams

Zac Clark wishes he could talk about his first career catch, one in which he reached up and grabbed a Boo Jackson pass one-handed before falling just a yard short of a touchdown.

The only problem is, he can’t remember it.

While bringing the ball in, an Akron safety dove toward his head, nailing the side of the helmet and forcing Clark to sustain a concussion. The following plays stand as a daze to him, and he struggled to regain his composure on the sidelines.

“With the sun, I couldn’t open my eyes. I had to keep my head down and eyes closed  ’cause it hurt so bad,” Clark said. “Sound too. My head couldn’t stand the music of the (Marching 110) playing behind us. I had to go to the locker room ’cause it was so bad.”

From the angle Clark took the hit, it might have been impossible for the head injury to be stopped, but efforts by both the equipment managers and trainers at Ohio work to prevent and rehabilitate the injuries.

John Bowman, the team’s head athletic trainer, became more cautious about concussions around 2005, when he noted that sometimes players could be back on the field as soon as a half hour or 45 minutes after a head


He has also noticed players becoming more aware of their own injuries.

“I think that today, the medical field has taught these players that if you don’t feel well, that it might be a concussion,” Bowman said. “Before, they might say, ‘It’s not that bad’. Now, they’ll come forward and let us know ‘I got a headache; I’m nauseous,’ and that’s what we want.”

Bowman and his staff treated guard Vince Carlotta cautiously following his concussion against Ohio State Sept. 18. After going through a baseline neurological test, or the IMPACT test, players slowly work their way back, starting with light exercise before eventual contact. They’ll most likely sit out the next game, which Carlotta did.

Back on the field against Eastern Michigan two weeks later, Carlotta suffered his second concussion, which forced athletic trainers to keep him out for the rest of the season. Despite suffering two serious head injuries, Carlotta said the stressing of safety and technique is done well at Ohio.

“The trainers and coaches teach you and show you how to hit,” Carlotta said.

“They have signs everywhere. It’s up to you whether or not you put yourself in those positions.

“Sometimes you can’t even help it.”

On top of Bowman and his staff’s guarded attitude, Matt Morton and the equipment staff attempt to provide the safest equipment possible. Morton fit a few players with Riddell’s Revolution 360 helmets, the latest in new equipment from the helmet company.

But, as Bowman and players pointed out, there is no such thing as a concussion-proof helmet, no matter how much technology is at the Bobcats’ disposal.

Factors such as hydration and self-maintenance of helmets play key roles in how safe each individual is on the field.

“You have to maintain air in the helmet, but there’s a hundred guys (on the team),” Bowman said. “And college people aren’t the most meticulous about checking their own equipment.”

Carlotta hopes to come back healthy next season but knows another head injury could end his playing career. During this off-season, he has stressed technique more than ever to be safe.

Despite the risk of another injury, he said he can’t hesitate while blocking during games.

“I’m not going to worry about it. You can have it affect your game, and that’s not what you want.”

Whether it is memory loss or dementia, former NFL players sometimes suffer years after being away from the game, but Carlotta is not letting the after-effects worry him.

“I’ve thought about it, and I just think the fact that our technology is so much better than the olden days that we have to be safer,” Carlotta said. “… When the day comes when I need to start worrying about it, that’s when I will.”


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