University of Washington

Huskies players have positive response to new helmets designed to reduce impact forces

Despite the degree of violence with which he approaches the game of football, Washington Huskies linebacker Azeem Victor says he has never had a concussion. For this, he is grateful.

So he is also appreciative of the Huskies’ newest piece of equipment: the Vicis Zero1 helmet, a multilayered helmet that features a design intended to “mitigate linear and rotational impact forces,” according to the Vicis website.

“This thing is actually pretty nice,” Victor said, showing off the helmet for reporters following Monday’s fall camp practice. “For a hard-hitting person like me, it’s actually keeping people safe. It works for me.”

Founded out of UW’s New Ventures Facility, Vicis, a Seattle-based startup, sought to create a helmet that compresses at impact in hopes of reducing concussion risk.

And while a Vicis Zero1 unveiling video notes that “a correlation between impact reduction and a reduction in concussion risk has not been established” — the company also acknowledges that no helmet can ever prevent the possibility of a concussion — the Huskies and coach Chris Petersen thought it would at least be worth a try.

According to a UW press release, the Huskies are one of two college teams using the helmets this season.

“We’re proud, excited that we’re one of the schools that gets to have them early,” Petersen said. “And we’re excited to see what it’s like to wear them and what it really means to us. That’s even hard to figure out when you’re trying to do research on this stuff.”

The Zero1 helmet, developed by neurosurgeons and engineers, “employs a highly engineered columnar structure that moves omni-directionally to reduce linear and rotational forces,” according to the Vicis website, and is intended to “deform locally” and absorb impact similar to a car bumper.

“Automotive safety engineers have used local deformation to protect people for decades,” reads Vicis’ website. “We’re the first to bring this proven innovation to football helmets.”

Through two practices, Washington’s players have seemed to welcome the change. Each player was fitted once for a new helmet during the summer, then fitted again once the helmets arrived. The team also watched an informational video to better understand the ways in which the new helmets are supposed to work.

(Also, the equipment switch means that each UW player will use only one helmet, all season, for practices and games. All of the helmets are traditional gold in color. So, no more black or white helmets, at least this season.)

“It’s a little bit heavier,” junior receiver Dante Pettis said, “but it’s nothing too bad. It’s pretty comfortable, honestly.”

Said sophomore tailback Myles Gaskin: “We watched this little video on it, and it really showed how it compressed and takes off all the pressure on your head. I’m not going to say (it’s) concussion-proof, but (it’s) better than other helmets.”

Pettis said concussion fears in football are “always in the back of someone’s mind,” and that ever-growing concerns regarding long-term affects of head injuries lead many players to use gallows humor to cope with the safety issues inherent to playing the game.

“It’s a risk you take when you play football,” he said. “If you play a sport, there’s going to be risk of injury. That’s just one of them for football.”

But he’s glad UW is at least trying to address it. The Huskies also teach the same “eyes through the thighs” rugby-style tackling technique employed by coach Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks. Petersen believes the method is more efficient and puts players’ heads in harm’s way less frequently.

“It shows other people care,” Pettis said, “and they’re not just trying to throw it under the rug and go on with it.”