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  • Writer's pictureTerry O'Neil

Frightening, Teachable Moment at Ole Miss

Ole Miss Head Coach Lane Kiffin was visibly shaken Monday when his 18-year-old true freshman tight end, Damarcus Thomas, suffered a serious practice-field injury and was airlifted to a Memphis, TN, trauma center.

Kiffin first told media that Thomas was motionless and "didn't have any feeling in his entire body" when loaded into the ambulance.  After a few hours, Ole Miss administrators reported that the player had regained movement in his extremities.  He was released from hospital Monday night.

Following a huge exhale and prayers of thanks, the first question is:  How could a player be so seriously injured on a Monday?  Answer:  Ole Miss, like many college teams, runs full-pads, full-speed drills during the week, including one day of full-contact 11-on-11 scrimmage.  

Monday's hit on Damarcus Thomas was described minutes later by teammate Jerrion Ealy:  "We're all just in shock.  I can't really say too much about it because it's just shocking.  It's one of those freak accidents that happens on a football field that you only hear about and you never see.  It's kind of eye-opening."

Kiffin said he'd never seen such an injury.  Devastated, he called his ex-wife and told her he didn't care if their 11-year-old son, Knox, ever played football again.  Describing the immediate aftermath of the injury, Kiffin said:

"The trainers kept touching him, going, 'Do you feel this?  Do you feel this?'  He keeps saying no.  This is a player I recruited.  And you're thinking about your own kid.  I don't know.  I called Knox's mom and said I couldn't care less whether he plays football ever again after seeing that."

Tellingly, Kiffin was verbalizing the reaction of a parent, not a coach.  He gave terrified voice to every parent's nightmare......and every parent's calculation when asked to sign a participation consent form.  

This is the ongoing crisis for football.  This is the intersection of injury and declining participation.  What can be done?  

Eliminate needless risk.  

NFL teams do not scrimmage live in-season.....many of them never scrimmage live in pre-season when plenty of full contact is permitted.  

More than ever, high school football needs exposure to sophisticated NFL practice techniques.  High school governing bodies in New Jersey, Michigan and North Carolina have recently advocated such methods.  In addition to advancing player health and safety, the new contact limits have helped recruiting.  

High school coaches in those three states can now tell parents:  "We practice like an NFL team.  We've learned from NFL coaches.  We accept the reasonable risk of gameday, but we don't add to it during the week.  Our players take care of each other on the practice field."

This is the message high school football parents want to hear.   

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