By Brian Paris - ONU Communications and Marketing
ADA — Ohio Northern University football players will play with more confidence this fall knowing that the finest football helmet on the market is protecting them. Thanks to a generous gift to the Polar Bear Club from the Walt and Teri Bettinger Foundation, every player on the Polar Bear roster will have the opportunity to wear a new state-of-the-art VICIS Zero1 football helmet, the top-rated helmet by the National Football League Players Association for three years running. The Zero1 is also a five-star rated helmet by the Virginia Tech University impact-testing program that has provided unbiased helmet ratings for college and high-school levels since 2011.
"Player safety is a top priority in our program," says head football coach Dean Paul. "Our staff vision is to go above and beyond to provide our players with the best of science and innovation."
To ensure that the state-of-the-art science translates to on-field safety, Mike Craig, vice president of elite accounts for VICIS, spent four days on campus during summer orientation to provide custom fittings for both incoming and returning football players. Whereas other manufactures rely on air pumped into inflatable bladders inside the helmet to simulate a custom fit, the Zero1 features an interchangeable memory foam pad system that maintains a custom fit for as long as the player wears the helmet.
"The problem with using air is that as soon as you pump that air into a helmet, it's already trying to get out. Air is also susceptible to changes in barometric pressure which fluctuates from August to November," says Craig.
Garrett Jones, and incoming freshman defensive lineman was impressed with the custom fitting he received at orientation. Prior to the experience, the only "fitting" he'd ever had was when he was issued his helmet in high school.
"They gave me a helmet, pumped some air in it and asked if it felt good. That was in August and that was the last adjustment anyone made. By the end of the season it was definitely loose," says Jones.
That will not be the case for Polar Bears this fall. One of the reasons the Zero1 ranks so highly is because it fits so well. A poorly fitting helmet simply can't protect a player's head the way a properly fitted helmet can. VICIS materials and design are top notch —for example, the helmet boasts 13 percent more peripheral vision— but the memory foam fitting system is key.
"I haven't had anybody yet, but the odds are that we might get a player who just doesn't fit in our helmet. And we won't allow our helmet to go on someone that it doesn't fit, because it won't perform as well as it should." says Craig.
If the Zero1 doesn't fit a player, there are options. The health and safety concerns of any student-athlete are medical issues and as such, no team will mandate that a player wear a certain helmet. Some players may have a preferred style of helmet. Some may have purchased their own. However, the hope is that every player that fits in a Zero1 wears it, because there simply isn't a better helmet on the market, and the Bettinger Foundation gift will provide enough helmets for every player on the roster.
"Ohio Northern is the only DIII school in the country to have a VICIS helmet for every player. I'm not aware of any others," says Craig.
As awareness of the risks associated with playing football becomes more prevalent, player safety —particularly brain and head safety— is increasingly on the minds of players and donors alike.
"Concussions are a big thing and I know I don't want one," says Jones. "As a defensive lineman, I would think about where my head is on every play. I didn't want to hit helmet to helmet but it would happen. It's amazing that we are able to have these helmets."
In terms of donors, Craig is seeing an uptick in orders resulting from booster groups and individual donors, but ONU is still one of the few programs in the country to have a gift result in this type of investment.
"We are so thankful to Walt and Teri Bettinger for this gift. It means that we will keep our players safe and provide our program with the best opportunity for success on the field and in the classroom. In addition, when future prospective student-athletes and parents visit ONU they will know that we are committed to player safety and have provided access to the best helmet in football," says Paul.
With the fittings complete the next step is choosing a color and finish. VICIS has some of the best painters in the industry and a wide array of options including the popular matte finishes. Check back this fall to see the final selection.