May 8, 2016
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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa football program remains on the cutting edge of progress compared to most of its Division I peers.
A recent example occurred May 4 when members of Riddell Sports trekked to the equipment room in the Richard O. Jacobson Football Operations Building where they scanned heads of 10 UI football players in order to design custom-fit helmets. With head injuries and concussions among the hot topics within the sport, Riddell has partnered with the UI to keep player safety at the forefront.
“Advancing the protective capabilities of helmets is always the first thing on our minds,” said Chris Kays, director of product marketing and management for Riddell Sports. “Our No. 1 priority is to match what the equipment staffs of these elite programs have and to create the best protective equipment.”
Scans, which capture the surface of each player via an iPad video application, take between 10-15 minutes. Accuracy of the scanner is plus or minus 1/20,000th of an inch. “It is taking every bump, crevice, unique shape and size of a head and capturing it,” Kays said. “The idea behind it is to match the helmet to that shape. It will be unique for that player.”
The program has never been attempted, although Riddell field-tested six helmets during spring drills. Iowa is joined in the pilot study by 14 Division I programs across the country.
Hawkeye players that will model the custom head gear are junior linebacker Bo Bower, senior running back LeShun Daniels, Jr. junior linebacker Josey Jewell, senior tight end George Kittle, junior fullback Drake Kulick, sophomore linebacker Aaron Mends, junior linebacker Ben Niemann, junior defensive back Miles Taylor, freshman fullback Brady Ross, and junior running back Akrum Wadley.
“Advancing the protective capabilities of helmets is always the first thing on our minds. Our No. 1 priority is to match what the equipment staffs of these elite programs have and to create the best protective equipment.”
According to Greg Morris, UI football equipment manager, the Hawkeyes and Riddell have been teammates for “as long as I have known.” Morris has been in the UI football equipment room since 1988.
Iowa was resistant transitioning to “air” helmets nearly 30 year ago, where air is pumped into a helmet to meet a player’s liking. In fact, the University of Iowa and Houston Independent School District were the last to switch from an all self-custom fit model.
“If we get down to this, we’re done with (air),” Morris said. “When it fits your head, you’re done. No more air, that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The Hawkeyes have already fitted many players for the 2016 season. In some cases — because of various head sizes — the equipment staff is required to put a medium head into a large helmet. Riddell’s new method would eliminate that quandary.
“You know the helmet is yours and it is made to fit you,” Morris said. “It should give players a sense of relief. If you can take the air caveat out and know that is made to fit you, when it gets here, you’re comfortable putting it on your head.”
Kays emphasized that Riddell is not in production of the new helmets, but rather in the early stages of product development. Field testing will be done this fall and the Hawkeyes are part of that test.
If all goes well with the program, Riddell will pass the preliminary iPad scanning to people like Morris in equipment rooms. Those results will then be sent to Riddell where the custom helmets will be produced.
Iowa finished 12-2 overall in 2015, winning its first 12 games and the Big Ten Conference West Division before playing in the Rose Bowl Game. The Hawkeyes open the 2016 season Sept. 3 against Miami (Ohio) inside Kinnick Stadium.