New Trier coaching staff strives to make sport safer

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WAUKEGAN — There’s a growing notion across the country, and on the North Shore, that football is too dangerous because of concussions.

Brian Doll was well aware of that when he was hired as New Trier’s coach earlier this year, he said, and he and his staff have tried to do all they can to make the game as safe as possible.

The results have been promising thus far: The Trevians’ varsity team hasn’t had any diagnosed concussions through the first five weeks of the season.

There are many reasons for the absence of head injuries. Doll has limited hitting during practices, for one, and New Trier also uses top-of-the-line helmets and shoulder pads. How Doll and his staff are teaching tackling has been crucial, too.

“We’ve gone into this style of Hawk tackling — that’s what [Seattle Seahawks coach] Pete Carroll has officially called it — where the head really gets taken out of the equation, so there’s less potential for it to have those high-impact type of hits,” Doll said. “We teach it every day.”

The inspiration behind Hawk tackling is rugby, Carroll explains in an instructional video that was sent to thousands of high school and youth football coaches this summer. Rugby, which isn’t played with helmets or shoulder pads, requires its players to tackle with their shoulders instead of their heads.

Carroll has applied the same principle with the Seahawks. There are several different types of Hawk tackles, but they all call for the shoulder to be the first point of impact, and to wrap up the legs.

“[Hawk tackling] kind of immobilizes a football player,” said New Trier senior Kevin Mulhern, a starting safety and running back. “For a running back or someone who is bigger and faster than you, you can get your hands around their legs or their hips and just twist them down.”

The Trevians work on tackling each day of practice, but they take precautions when doing so. They never bring players to the ground during practice, Doll said. They tackle onto mats in order to remove the chance somebody hits his head on the turf or suffers an injury like a twisted knee.

Moreover, New Trier only hits on Tuesdays, and Doll said the Trevians do so for about 10-15 minutes during those practices. They spend the rest of their time tackling each other onto mats and using tackling dummies and pads.

“The tackling onto mats is so we can practice that full speed, hard-as-we-can tackling,” junior linebacker Colin Casas said. “Our coaches have done a great job of stressing the importance of safe tackling — keeping your head up, not leading with your head.”

Doll was asked about how he and his staff have been able to limit concussions after New Trier (5-0, 1-0) beat Waukegan 49-14 on Saturday in a Central Suburban South game.

“I know I can’t prevent them,” Doll said. But he went on to add that nearly every sport — from volleyball to hockey to soccer — has concussions.

The goal within the New Trier football program is to get that number to be as small as possible.

“The results so far have been outstanding, so we’re really happy about that,” Doll said.

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