Category: College Football

College Football News

College players undeterred by grim CTE study: 'You have to accept the good and bad'

As evidence mounts linking football and brain injuries, most college players are still willing to accept the risks.
As evidence mounts linking football and brain injuries, most college players are still willing to accept the risks.

LOS ANGELES — Twenty-one months after sustaining a blow to the head severe enough to cause temporary memory loss, Arizona offensive lineman Jacob Alsadek’s philosophy toward concussions hasn’t changed much.

“I try not to think about them, really,” he said.

To avoid losing his edge on the football field, Alsadek chooses to ignore the threat of concussions despite mounting evidence that football players are especially susceptible to brain injuries. The 22-year-old NFL hopeful hasn’t seen the latest terrifying research painting a grim picture for football players, nor does he have any plans to seek it out.

A study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that researchers had examined 202 brains belonging to men who played football and found that 87 percent showed signs of a neurodegenerative disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Of the 111 brains donated by families of former NFL players, researchers found CTE in all but one of them.

“I’m scared to watch the Concussion movie,” Alsadek said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever look at that sort of thing.”

While Alsadek’s decision to intentionally bury his head in the sand may be unusual, he’s far from alone in not hunting for the most up-to-date data on the link between brain injuries and contact sports. Yahoo Sports asked five other players who attended Wednesday’s Pac-12 Media Day to react to the study. The only one who had heard of it was just vaguely aware of it.

Informed of the results of the study, each player had a similar reaction. They love football so much that they’re willing to accept the safety risks associated with playing it, including the threat of a degenerative brain injury that has been linked to acts of random violence, acute depression and suicide.

“You make the decision to play football, and you have to accept the good and bad with that,” UCLA linebacker Kenny Young said. “I play football and I play linebacker. I’m tackling or hitting somebody every single play. The only thing you can control is how you do it. Do you want to be the guy that knocks people out every single play for entertainment? Or are you that guy that cares about your longterm health?”

For players willing to assume the risks of playing college football, the good news is that the sport is far more conscious of the threat of brain injuries than it once was. The NCAA has implemented a handful of changes in the past decade designed to protect players and ensure the longterm survival of the sport.

In 2010, the NCAA mandated that institutions educate student-athletes about head injuries and establish procedures to identify, diagnose and treat concussions. The NCAA has also reduced the permissible number of full-contact practices and strengthened the consequences of the targeting penalty that protects a player from having his head targeted by an opposing defender.

The challenge for safety-conscious coaches is that head injuries aren’t always easy to identify and players may not self report them, either because they’re unaware or because they’re afraid of being removed from the game. When Alsadek sustained his lone concussion in Oct. 2015 against Washington, he admitted he played an entire quarter before realizing something wasn’t right and alerting the Arizona coaches he needed to come out of the game.

“There was a point in time that I literally don’t remember anything,” Alsadek said. “I stayed in the game because I’d never had a concussion and I had no idea I had one. All of a sudden, I sort of come back into my body and I’m like, ‘What is wrong? I don’t know where I’m at.”

A longterm solution could be sensors in the helmet or mouthguard that identify when a player sustains a blow to the head, but such technology still needs fine tuning in most cases. For now, coaches can only try to remain vigilant during practices and games while also fostering a culture in which players feel comfortable self-reporting head injuries.

“Our first year here, we had a young man that definitely had an issue on the field during a game,” Oregon State coach Gary Andersen said. “I ran out to the numbers and grabbed him. The official looked at me like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ I was like, ‘We’ve got to get this kid out of the game.’ So you can’t see everything as a coach, but when you see something like that, you’ve got to act.”

In the past few years, a handful of Pac-12 players have retired from football because of the accumulation of concussions. The most recent was heralded Stanford offensive lineman Clark Yarbrough, who called it the hardest decision he has ever made in an Instagram post earlier this month.

“I have always had lofty aspirations outside of football and for what I hope to be the better, concussions have begun this new chapter of my life,” Yarbrough wrote. “The worst part of this thing is that I will never know if continuing to play would have seriously affected my long term health, and that is something I will never let go of. With that being said, I can walk away from this knowing that I am making a mature decision and moving forward my life will be entirely what I make of it.”

Most of Yarbrough’s peers will keep playing despite the risks. They’ll focus on proper tackling technique or making would-be tacklers miss. And they’ll hope that the rule changes implemented over the past decade make the game safer.

“It’s scary because this is your life,” Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay said. “It’s your head, your brain. But you sign up for this sport knowing you’re running that risk. You just hope that you can stay healthy.”

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Pac-12 Media Days: UCLA's Jim Mora sees OC turnover as a plus for Josh Rosen

UCLA QB Josh Rosen missed much of the 2016 season because of a shoulder injury. (Getty)

UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen is on his third offensive coordinator in his three seasons with the Bruins.

As a freshman, Rosen’s offensive coordinator was Noel Mazzone, who left to become Texas A&M’s offensive coordinator before the 2016 season. Kenedy Polamalu, the team’s running backs coach in 2015, took over as offensive coordinator in 2016.

Now, former Michigan passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch is UCLA’s OC. And UCLA coach Jim Mora said he feels the changeover has been a benefit for Rosen because of the way the quarterback can take in information.

“think he’s been asked a couple times is it helpful or hurtful that he’s on his third coordinator, quarterback coach,” Mora said “For some it might be hurtful. For Josh I think it’s helpful because he loves information. He loves to absorb information.

“… Now to have a person like Jedd with his pedigree and his background and the people he’s coached for and the players that he’s coached. It’s all building this very strong platform for Josh that I really think he has embraced,” Mora said. “I see a very strong relationship there.”

One of the reasons UCLA made a change at coordinator after the 2016 season was the running game’s utter lack of success. The Bruins barely broke the 1,000-yard mark as a team and averaged just three yards a carry.

“Our running game was awful, and I’m hopeful that it will be improved and get back to where it was the first few years we were together as a staff,” Mora said. “I feel good about the direction it’s headed. I think we’ve got good backs. We’ve got a good scheme. It’s well coached. And the players understand and we understand that it needs to be better.”

Washington’s Chris Petersen a big fan of Pac-12’s test initiative

You can count Chris Petersen as someone who despises the average game time of a college football game.

The Pac-12 will experiment during the non-conference schedule with a shorter halftime period and fewer commercials for a few games on Pac-12 Network. Based off Petersen’s comments, we’re guessing Washington will be involved in one of the games.

“I love it,” Petersen said. “I can’t stand how long the college football game is. I don’t like the games at all. You do a drive, you’ve got to wait. You do a first down, you’ve got to wait for another commercial. That’s painful.”

“As painful as it is to everybody watching the game maybe at home, that’s why people can just press pause, go get something to eat, and fast forward through all the stuff that’s paying the bills. But the shorter we can make it in terms of — we want to play and just keep playing. We don’t want to sit in the locker room a long time. We don’t need a bunch of time to warm up. And however we can shorten the game, I’m all for it.”

Petersen also said he saw “good flashes” of talent from his secondary in spring practice. The Huskies return six starters on defense but need to replace defensive backs Budda Baker, Sidney Jones and Kevin King.

“I think they all got better,” Petersen said of his new defensive secondary. “I hope they got better since then. And they’ll get better in this fall camp process, and we’ll see where we are from there.

“This is kind of one of the exciting things I think about college football; that you lose these players and you’ve got to replace them. I think what’s exciting is when you’ve got some guys that are talented, that care, you’ve seen them do some really good things, and now it’s a matter of building that consistency.”

Oregon State transfer RB Thomas Tyner’s shoulder “100 percent”

Could Oregon State get some immediate contributions from former Oregon running back Thomas Tyner?

Tyner medically retired from football after the 2015 season and sat out the 2016 season because of two shoulder injuries. But the itch to play football returned and he transferred to Oregon State over the spring.

According to head coach Gary Andersen, Tyner has been a full-go in workouts.

“Thomas’ shoulder is 100 percent from what our people have told us,” Andersen said. “He went through the summer conditioning and he’s been great, so I don’t think — injury is a non-factor in my mind to that point with Thomas. Everywhere we’ve been, and we’ve had successful running games, we’ve had three really good backs. We have the ability, I think, to have three or four really good backs this year, and two young backs that are really good.”

The Beavers also return leading rushers Ryan Nall and Artavis Pierce. If Oregon State is to get to a bowl game for the first time since 2013, it’s going to be on the strength of the ground game.

Oh, and Oregon State has already started fall practice for the 2017 season. Yes, it’s getting closer and closer.

“I would say this … watching our old kids and our young kids mesh on the practice field was really fun to see yesterday,” Andersen said. “There’s just not egos. There is a care factor to push each other, compete, practice the right way.”

Mike MacIntyre doesn’t blame Jim Leavitt for leaving

When former Colorado defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt told Mike MacIntyre what Oregon had offered him to be the Ducks’ defensive coordinator, MacIntyre didn’t attempt to pressure him to stay.

“When he told me he was going to make $1.4 million a year at Oregon, I said ‘Why are you standing here talking to me? You better take the job.’ With a guaranteed four-year contract,” MacIntyre said. “We couldn’t match that. And I’m happy for him. He’s earned the right to get that. And that’s good.”

MacIntyre said the Buffaloes hired former Kentucky defensive coordinator D.J. Elliott to replace Leavitt because he ran the same defense with the Wildcats. Colorado’s defense was a big part of the Buffs’ turnaround in 2016, and MacIntyre hopes the defense can improve on its pass rush in 2017 with a unit that returns six starters.

“We have [LB] Derek McCartney in the back who is a good pass-rusher,” MacIntyre said. “We feel like [DE] Tim Coleman is another young man on our team that’s played well for us. So we’ll be able to attack the back field. Hopefully we can get to the quarterback a little more than we did last year.”

Rodriguez: Baseball player-turned-QB Donavan Tate an “interesting guy.”

Could Arizona be starting a 26-year-old at quarterback this fall? One of the players vying for the starting job is Donavan Tate, who was drafted No. 3 overall in the 2009 MLB draft and will turn 27 in September.

Tate was released by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016, and has turned his attention to football, where he was a highly-rated recruit in high school. His presence, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said, has brought some “maturity” to the Arizona QB room.

“Donavan Tate, we recruited him,” Rodriguez said. “I remembered him from — I’m dating myself here — about eight or nine years ago when I was at Michigan. He was the third pick in the draft. Took the signing bonus and went and played baseball. Found out through a friend he’s not playing baseball anymore. He’s got four years of college eligibility, baseball has paid his way.

“So does he really want to do this? After talking to the guy, he paid for his own visit to come visit campus, and he’s worked his tail off. He’s bringing — I don’t know what kind of player he’s going to be right now. But I know this: The maturity in that quarterback room has changed already. Here’s a 26-, 27-year-old grown man, married with three kids, and then you have my son who is 19 going on 39 in the room, too, so the maturity level in that quarterback room has changed already. And that’s going to help us.”

Cal’s Wilcox thinks there’s more conversation to be had about new practice rules

Numerous college football teams are adjusting their preseason practice schedules after the NCAA barred two-a-day practices.

For Cal coach Justin Wilcox, the 2017 preseason is his first as a head coach and therefore his first time in charge of a fall camp schedule. Wilcox was asked twice about the ban Wednesday and said he believed there was a middle ground to be had regarding two-a-day practices.

“I think there is probably some more conversation to be had on that, honestly,” Wilcox said. “I think there’s a way you can operate two-a-days and still, you know, be mindful of the student-athlete and the demand you’re putting on them physically, but also not maybe stretch it out quite as long.

“We’re totally comfortable with our schedule that we put together for fall camp. We had to tweak it a little bit because of rule changes, and we’re fine with that. But I think there is probably something more there you could discuss.”

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of Dr. Saturday and From the Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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