Montreal students win NFL grant to compete in crucial contest: making a better helmet
MONTREAL -- The NFL may seem a world away right now, in a few ways, but students and staff at the École de Technologie Supérieure are working on a game-changing product: a new helmet.
They’re one of four teams to earn a grant of more than $200,000 USD from the league to reduce concussions.
“The NFL is trying to stimulate innovation to have better protective equipment for the player,” explains Franck Le Naveaux, one of the coordinators of the project.
Their design so far has “better cushion pads inside the helmets that are better able to absorb the energy and impact,” says Le Naveaux.
They can print prototypes with a 3D printer.
The helmets have a honeycomb-type lattice pattern that can soften blows from big hits coming from almost any direction.
The research has meant digging deep into football, and the team has discovered some surprising facts.
For example, ball carriers aren’t always the most prone to concussions.
“Based on the NFL data that we have, we know it's the person who is tackling who gets more concussions,” says Eric Wagnac, a professor at the school.
Cornerbacks, the players who cover the receivers, sustain more hits to the head than anyone, he said. And many concussions happen when players are struck from the side, not head-on.
In the moment, how exactly the concussion happens can be hard to understand, even for the player, says Brad Collinson, the head football coach at Concordia.
Protocols are in place to prevent concussions, but it’s also important that equipment has changed drastically over the years, he said.
“I last played in 2003,” said Collinson. “And equipment has changed dramatically from 2003 to 2020.”
“It's a constantly evolving sport,” said Ronald Hilaire, McGill’s head coach.
There’s been a reckoning in football as concussion rates have rocked the sport.
“It allows for us to dig deep down inside and rethink the practices we used to have,” said Hilaire.
The grant-winning teams must have their prototypes ready in a year’s time. After that, at one point, who knows—maybe Montrealers will see a local design head onto the continent’s most famous football fields.