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Fruitport football gets new helmets to set safety standard

Alec Brzezinski • Jul 8, 2019 at 12:15 AM

Spectators at Fruitport football games will notice something new about the Trojans this season, as each player will don in a new, safety-regulated helmet.

Fruitport High School announced last week that it will equip its entire football roster with the VICIS ZERO1 helmet for the 2019 football season. The ZERO1 has received the highest performance rating in the National Football League (NFL) and National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) helmet performance testing three consecutive years.

“(VICIS) places a real value on growing player safety awareness in football,” Fruitport head coach Nate Smith said. “I really liked the sales and research teams, and how passionate they were to help our program. The displayed genuine concern for all of our football players.”

The Trojans’ decision to convert its entire team to the ZERO1 is the latest example of a growing commitment from teams around the country to protect student-athletes with the most technologically advanced equipment. More than 1,200 high school programs and 150 professional and college teams have made the switch to the ZERO1. Originally introduced in 2017 to NFL and NCAA teams, the ZERO1 features a deformable outer shell and a unique columnar layer designed to slow impact forces while enhancing players performance.

Fruitport High School is the first team in the state of Michigan to do a complete conversion to the VICIS ZERO1.

“All the pieces really came to the table for us to get this done,” Smith said. “You can tell the players are excited to have the parents and community on board. They are also excited to have new helmets, it’s exciting that this is actually happening.

“Every season players have to make adjustments to new helmets, but I think this will be a seamless change. All the players were custom fit for their helmets, giving them even more safety reassurance. VICIS’ tech team orchestrated the custom fitting, and even set up measures to get new players custom helmets. The helmets could take some time getting used to, but we aren’t worried.”

Fruitport, as a community, has placed an emphasis on empowering their youth to greater heights and expectations. Currently working on a massive project to revamp its high school, Fruitport, who has seen enrollment dip in recent years, has also upgraded equipment in all sports for better performance and safety protocol.

“It shows the level of commitment the athletic department has for safety and players,” Smith said of the numerous measures taken across all Fruitport High School sports to enhance player safety. “There is a statewide level of making player safety a commitment a big deal. MHSAA has had a strong concussion protocol in place for over seven years now. We’re trying to stay ahead of the curve and place player safety at the forefront of our player training.”

But how did the team know VICIS was the best fit for their school? Every company has a sales pitch and research presentations, but how did Fruitport know this was the best helmet for safety and performance?

VICIS, a Seattle-based company focused on sports protective technologies, is very new to the scene. Its inaugural product, the ZERO1 football helmet, launched in 2017 and ranked first in 2017 and 2018 NFL/NFLPA Helmet Performance testing. The company also has a series of youth helmets, and is funded by former and current NFL stars such as Roger Staubach, Jerry Rice, Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith.

Despite its glowing resume, the company’s first helmets were recalled after NFL players had a problem with their style and feel. But adjustments were made, and VICIS quickly became the standard for player safety.

“We had done a fair amount of research, knew a fair amount about VICIS before even making contact, so that we knew what we were getting into,” Smith said. “VICIS does a full technical presentation on their helmet. They researched and developed their product for three years before even testing them on NFL players. Of all things, NFL players weren’t happy with the initial design, but they made adjustments and we did our homework.”

High school athletics, from Texas to Michigan and Maine to California is all about community. Taking a team of young boys and girls with a town’s name on their jersey and watching them represent their school and community. Fruitport is proud to be the first school to fully embrace these helmets for player safety, and Smith said his team is excited to have the community on their side.

“It gives parents a little peace of mind understanding safety is a priority here, Smith said. “ Our volleyball team and other sports have the same health goals. Player safety is a culture thing at Fruitport, which might help parents on the fence about letting their children pa football.

“Anything we can do to protect the sport, and help it grow, is great. Other teams can look at Fruitport and what we are doing. This is a special place.”

With new safety measures in place, Smith and his team can now focus on a touch upcoming O-K Black schedule. After implementing a new offensive system, he believes the team will be more comfortable and prepared this year after falling to 1-8 last season.

“I’m confident in the upcoming season,” Smith said. “We hope we have started the foundation for a great football program, and we are excited about the new playoff system.

MHSAA announced, this spring, a new playoff system that places a more pronounced emphasis on strength of schedule, rather than overall record. As a result, more teams finishing 5-4 should make the playoffs, with less 6-3 teams making it if they play a weak schedule. Smith and Fruitport are excited about this change because they annually play a tough schedule.

“MHSAA is making moves in the right direction to get the right teams in the playoffs,” Smith said. “Using strength of schedule is a great determiner of talent. We play a tough schedule and we are usually at a size disadvantage with other teams in our conference. We don’t have the depth of other teams we face, but we continue to improve each week.

“This change puts us in a great position to make a playoff push. But, as always, we have to win games first.”

With new, exciting helmets in place, and a newfound excitement for the game with a revamped playoff system, Fruitport could be a team to watch for in the brutal O-K Black Conference.

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