If you’re from Northwest South Carolina, football is more than a game here – it’s life. Just ask nearby Clemson Tigers fans what makes the school so special.
But, not far away, about 45 minutes south of Anderson, South Carolina, there’s another school trying to leave its legacy. One that can have lasting implications for future generations of players.
Located just off highway 81, Crescent High School in Iva, South Carolina (a town of about 1,200 people) is doing something different. And the larger football community should take notice.
“When we brought in the smart helmet technology, we didn’t really know what we had to be honest with y’all. Nobody around here’s done anything using analytics before so it was a learning curve for us and the families in the program,” said Sheldon Evans, Varsity Head Football Coach.
“Coaching in the South, there’s a lot of guys that like to do things old school. But we’re looking for an advantage, something that can really make us better. If we think analytics and smart helmets help us win games, then we’re all for it. And we wanted to grow the protection we made available to our kids, so InSite was perfect for that.”
Rurally-located, sandwiched between a cattle farm and a rodeo stadium, Crescent High is one of the first schools in all of South Carolina outfitting their entire program in Riddell’s InSite smart helmet technology.
InSite, which debuted in 2014, is football’s leading smart helmet system that tracks and analyzes head impacts that a player experiences during practice and games. Over time the system learns each individual’s playing behavior and style, creating a profile for each athlete, and then flags instances where the data falls outside his/her norm.
“The training opportunities within the system have become very valuable to us. We’re not a very big program, only about 35 – 40 players. Each one is very valuable to our success, so if we can understand the way they’re playing the game, that’s a big advantage to us as a staff,” said Evans.
Evans said that his players used InSite in 2018, but 2019 has been an eye-opener for the program. Now, they analyze the data every week to understand how their players are experiencing head impacts through practice and games. When the system flags something with a player or position group, the team will look into changing practice schedules to shorten high-impact periods or work directly with players to improve performance.
Chelsea Pounds, athletic trainer for Crescent High School, says smart helmets changed the fabric of the program. “Now, we have so much more parent and player interest in the smart helmet technology. Everyone is interested in finding out how they’re improving on the field, and what they can do to get better. The buy-in from the community is great.”
“It’s really made the communication between the coaches and training staff an everyday thing. We’re working so much closer in monitoring the players, the impacts they’re taking and evaluating how we can change what we do to get better,” said Pounds.
As athletic trainer, Pounds says her number one priority is to ensure the safety of the student athletes, many of whom won’t play football after high school.
“With such a small community in Iva, it’s important for me to ensure every athlete in the program here has a good experience with the game. Having smart helmets available to us as another tool in player safety, at the high school level, is amazing and says a lot about where we want the game to go at Crescent,” added Pounds.
Crescent’s use of InSite serves as an example to other schools with similar programs. Where player protection is such a priority in today’s environment, taking a step like this is a major development, especially in Anderson County.
In speaking with the players, they mentioned improved relationships with the athletic training staff, as regular check-ins are not uncommon as well as some more hands-on coaching if they’re struggling with technique. In addition, players are amazed at how quickly the system integrated into their helmets, many of them, not even knowing it was there.
“We’re one of the only school’s I know of taking advantage of this technology. Which says a lot about our program because I love this game and will do whatever I can to protect it. And I hope other coaches feel the same way.”
“Football means so much to me and this community. InSite gives us another opportunity to improve our protection and still play the sport we love. That’s a no-brainer for us and should be for others as well.”