Death of prep player puts emphasis back on tackling properly

Friends and family are waiting for the autopsy results of the high school football player from Winnsboro, Louisiana, who died Friday night.

The Franklin parish coroner says Tyrell Cameron died shortly after being taken to the hospital with an injury suffered in the fourth quarter of the game. He reportedly broke his neck.

Now local experts are working to prevent future injuries.

Friends say Saturday night’s candlelight vigil for Franklin Parish High School sophomore Tyrell Cameron, celebrated a life admired on and off of the gridiron.

“He was a great player but he’s just even a better person and that’s what we’re going to miss most about Tyrell. We’re going to miss him as a player but we’ll miss him more as a person,” Franklin Patriots Head Coach Barry Sebren said fighting back his tears.”He was like my little brother. Never told me anything wrong. He always kept a smile. Made me happy every day. We practice hard against each other every day, every day. It ain’t going to be the same without him,” said teammate D’von Douglas, a Franklin Patriots left tackle and junior at the high school.

Tyrell’s death from a football neck injury in a Franklin Parish High game, made news around the world and has experts talking about making the sport safer. Tulane Sports Medicine specialist Dr. Greg Stewart did a study with high school football players.

“While most of them say they were taught to tackle right, correctly, a lot of them actually still said that they would duck and use the top of their head when they tackled,” said Dr. Stewart who is the team physician at Tulane and practices physical medicine and rehabilitation.

That is why ‘Heads Up Football’ has gotten so much attention, teaching athletes to not to tilt their heads down when tackling. Doing that takes the natural curve out of the neck allowing a hit on the top of the head to crush the vertebrae like an accordion.

An instructional YouTube video by Seattle head coach Pete Carroll explains how the Seahawks practice drills to tackle like rugby players, still keeping the game tough but safe enough for players to practice that proper technique even without equipment.

“It really was just going back out and making sure that we preach safe tackling and we preach proper technique. There has to be more than just the straight-on drills that a lot of times happen. You have to practice what you’re really going to be put up against in a game,” explained Dr. Stewart, noting the many different angles of tackling that happen during a game.

Dr. Stewart and the Tulane Athletic Department recently trained coaches and first responders on the new way of handling field injuries. In most cases, leaving equipment on so the neck stays level. He reminds players that helmets protects the face, eyes, nose, teeth, and ears, not necessarily the brain and not the neck.

In the last 20 years, 77 U.S. high school players have died from football injuries. Dr. Stewart says the discipline, camaraderie, life lessons, and brotherhood in the locker room, reported by pro and student athletes alike, are important.

“These kids in high school, in New Orleans, that if they don’t have the opportunity to play football, then they’re running the streets and they’re actually safer playing football.”

Doctors say even with “heads up” training, it’s a natural reaction for people to protect their faces.

Football rules also changed on kickoffs to help protect the receiver and players from high impact collisions.

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