Updated: Thursday, 08 Nov 2012, 11:19 AM CST
Published : Monday, 05 Nov 2012, 11:41 AM CST
Jason Smith terrorizes opposing defenses every Friday night, but the McGill Toolen quarterback nearly didn't get the chance to play football.
"I really didn't want him to play," said his mother Yolanda, who eventually allowed the talented Auburn commit to play in eighth grade. "I always worry. The only thing I can do is pray when he's out there."
"What happened five years ago is, 'Shake it off, go back in there,'" said Dr. John Ronderos of the Watson Neuroscience Foundation in Mobile. "Football is changing."
The NFL has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in brain injury research and equipment improvements, but Dr. Ronderos said prevention of future brain damage starts with recognition and a change in culture. It’s something he said we're already seeing.
"Right now, there's a lot more protection for the quarterback. There's more helmet to helmet contact penalties, more spearing penalties, and those type of penalties which I never heard of five years ago, you now see every week, almost every game."
Ronderos and his partners at the Watson Neuroscience Foundation do impact concussion studies and try to educate parents, coaches and players about identifying concussions.
"There's a lot more knowledge as far as when a player can and cannot go back (in the game). You have a concussion and before you completely resolve that you go back in, and you play and you get another one. Those are the hits that appear to be more devastating to players that a concussion in itself."
That's exactly what the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) is trying to avoid. It teamed up with State leaders to create a new concussion law.
It requires all athletic associations to provide information on concussions to participants and their families, train coaches to recognize concussions and if a player is suspected of having a concussion, they must be removed and be cleared by a doctor before they can play again.
It appears to be helping. According to Ronderos, his foundation has partnered with several schools in the area and has seen 12 concussions in the past two weeks. Four years ago, when they first started the project, they didn't see that many the entire season.
"It's awareness, education and commitment to treatment," Ronderos said.
That's something the Smith said they are getting at McGill-Toolen.
"At the beginning of the year, coach (Bart Sessions) and McGill made sure that we got the necessary knowledge that we needed as parents about the concussion injuries and that sort of thing," Smith said.
Awareness has been a help for Jason's mom, though it's still hard to watch.
"His love is football," she said. "So I have to support him."
Despite the recent advances in concussions studies, Smith's prayers for her son will continue because there is always a risk when you play football.
"Anytime you have movement, collision, athletics, you're gonna have a certain level, what is that theoretical minimum, I don’t know, but that's the whole point of this -- trying to get the level of injury to our kids down to the theoretical minimum."
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