OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Those involved in high school football say the game is safer than it's ever been, but participation numbers have been dropping for some time.
Today, part four of our concussion series focuses on the high school level.
When Omaha Roncalli coach Tom Kassing was playing the game, concussions were no big deal. In fact, Kassing says he's had seven of them, but times are changing and high school football is changing with them.
Kassing has had to make changes to the way he coaches and practices, and that includes buying guardian caps for every member on the team to use during practices.
"It's kind of like a pillow, it's a barrier, and when somebody else has that barrier, it softens the blow." Kassing said.
"It's nice because you can still play kind of free without suffering the consequences, said Jack Dotzler, Roncalli senior.
They take them off for games, but at $40 a pop, they seem to be money well spent.
"We had only had one concussion last year in practice. And then the kid wasn't wearing his guardian cap," Kassing said. "At least it gives me some piece of mind, I'm doing something."
And even when the caps are off, the headgear is better than it used to be.
Looking at the two, it's clear the new helmets are much safer.
"I probably wouldn't let my kid play if it was that old technology. There's a ton of new technology, there are companies that are making a ton of money off of making kids safer." Kassing said.
Tackling is also different, with defenders no longer aiming to put their head in front of the ballcarrier. That's not all that's changing, the attitudes of those on the field on Friday night aren't what they were 20 years ago.
"Your teammates are responsible for it, you coaches are responsible for it, but also yourself. Because at the end of the day nobody can tell you that you have a headache, it's got to be you." Dotzler said.
Changes clearly needed to be made to keep the game alive.
Over the last 15 years, kids playing high school football in Nebraska has dropped by over 18 percent, and since 2013, it's seen a decrease of around 11 percent.
"The game was under attack a little bit, that's when participation numbers really dipped." said Nate Neuhaus, Assistant director of the NSAA.
The Nebraska School Activities Association, under the umbrella of the national organization has made significant changes over the last few years. That includes forcing teams to not tackle until they practice for most of the week. There is also contact limits before the season.
"The old days of contact, contact, contact, day after day, has been proven to be dangerous." Neuhaus said.
They've also changed up kickoffs, and strictly enforce helmet to helmet tackles and other hits that leave players vulnerable to a concussion, all with the hope the game sticks around for a long time.
"Some people feel like, where's the game going to be in five years, are we going to have a game in 10 years, I'm confident that we will." Neuhaus said.
Cross country numbers have risen by 18 percent since 2013, it's unclear if that has a direct correlation to the declining football numbers.
Jon Kipper's studio-debrief on today's story: