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  • Writer's pictureTerry O'Neil

O'Neil Lauds Coaches during Sheely Panel

PLP founder Terry O'Neil appeared Thursday on a panel to discuss best practices for high school football health and safety at The Derek Sheely Conference: Reducing Catastrophic Risk for Student-Athletes, at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

The event, organized by the NCAA and Aspen Institute, honored Derek Sheely, fullback/co-captain at Frostburg State (MD) University, who died of catastrophic brain trauma sustained during pre-season practice, 2011.  The conference began with a wrenching, tearful account delivered by his parents, Ken and Kristen Sheely, while images of Derek played on a large video screen.  Over multiple days of full-contact drills in August, 2011, Frostburg State coaches and athletic trainers were either unable or unwilling to recognize Derek's injuries.  He fell into a coma, underwent emergency brain surgery and survived six days before succumbing.

As a boy, the left-handed Derek adopted Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young as his hero.  He wore Young's No. 8 San Francisco 49ers jersey with such regularity that grade-school teammates nicknamed him "Steve Young."  An amusing account of this story by the Sheelys gave O'Neil a hook to detail the founding of Practice Like Pros. 

O'Neil's oldest son, Liam, was a three-year starting quarterback (2010-12) at Young'salma mater, Greenwich (CT) High School.  There, his coach conducted nearly every practice in full contact with all players live, including the quarterback.  Liam suffered six major injuries at Greenwich High -- two concussions, three orthopedic fractures and a torn knee ligament -- only two of those injuries in games, the other four in practice and scrimmage.  On the day Liam committed to play college football at Tufts University,Practice Like Pros was founded to reduce needless injury in high school football.

Referring to his son's high school misadventures, Terry told the audience, "Those days are over, I'm glad to say.  The fellow who coached my son years ago is very uncommon in high school football now."

Verification came from the only coach on the panel, Randy Trivers of Gonzaga College High School in D.C., winner last year of the prestigious Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) championship. Trivers said his team's only full contact in regular-season practice is one 5-minute period on Tuesdays, consisting of three to six goal line and short yardage plays.

"This is where the game is going," O'Neil said.  "If you think your coach is still living in the past, give him another look.  My suspicion is that he's like New Jersey coaches who have embraced change at the rate of 99% with their historic contact reductions two months ago.  The coaching profession, believe me, they understand."

To screen a video of the April 18 Derek Sheely Conference, click here.

Manning, Riddell Honor "Smarter Football"

Coincidentally, while the Derek Sheely Conference was underway, Archie Manningtexted O'Neil a related story from the Peoria (IL) Journal Star.

On Tuesday, April 16, at its Des Plaines (IL) headquarters, equipment manufacturerRiddell donated a massive trove of helmets, shoulder pads, football pants, girdles, warmup suits and travel bags to Peoria (IL) High School.  The presentation was made byPeyton Manning, Riddell brand ambassador.

Peoria High was chosen as the winner of Riddell's "Smarter Football" program becauseHead Coach Tim Thornton limits full-contact practice to only two days per year.  Riddellalso awarded ten grants of $10,000 each to runner-up high schools.

To read the Journal Star story, click here.

Aspen Institute Grants Available

The Aspen Institute is also offering grants to progressive high school football programs via its Healthy Sports Index initiative.

In partnership with Hospital for Special Surgery, Aspen Institute is conducting a national search to identify exemplary high school coaches and administrators who innovate ways to keep their athletes healthy.  Winners will receive $500 awards.

To learn more and apply for the grant, click here.

Raves for Giants' Pat Shurmur

New Jersey high school coaches are raving about the appearance of New York Giants Head Coach Pat Shurmur at their New Jersey Football Coaches Association (NJFCA)/Rutgers Football Clinic, April 5 in Piscataway, NJ.  PLP edited and forwarded a video of Shurmur's presentation to coaches at all 343 of New Jersey's football-playing high schools.

In return, Clinic Director Gerry Gallagher emailed, "On behalf of the NJFCA, thank you for being an important part of our clinic.  Practice Like Pros has become a regular part of our event.  We've had nothing but positive feedback from the coaches who attended."

Dick Vermeil, Super Bowl-champion coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Ramsand Kansas City Chiefs, messaged, "Pat Shurmur is a first-class person and a fine coach.  I respect him a lot.  His words should and will add to the credibility of this project."

To view an 11-minute edited version of Shurmur's presentation, click here.

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