It has been three years since Dakota Wesleyan and Augustana University began using Guardian Caps, but both football programs have found alternative uses for them.
Guardian Caps appear like a turtle shell, but it is a soft removable cap with 39 pockets of polyurethane foam designed to absorb 33 percent of G-force by moving energy through each pocket before reaching the hard exterior of the helmet, while making it 15 to 20 degrees cooler.
While both schools implemented the caps in hopes of reducing head injuries in practice, the biggest takeaway from the product has been a decrease in injuries resulting from helmet contact to various body parts, as well as preserving helmets from damage.
“From an equipment standpoint, we have a lot less issues with helmets breaking and things getting beat up,” DWU head coach Ross Cimpl said. “Which helps from a financial standpoint, because we don’t have to buy a bunch of new helmets every year because they’re dinged up or broken.”
Helmets have a lifespan of 10 years before schools are required to replace them. Of the 150 colleges currently using Guardian Caps, 30 are FBS programs such as Clemson, Oklahoma, Penn State and Texas.
Such schools have budgets large enough to give players multiple helmets per season, but smaller schools like DWU and Augustana assign one helmet each season. So, if one breaks, the cost for a new one can be as great as $350.
Instead, those teams wear a $45 Guardian Cap that can be washed and easily replaced should it accrue irreparable damage.
“I’ve had teams that upgraded to a chrome paint helmet and they need it to last more than one game,” said Matt Simonds, who leads sales for Guardian Sports, the company that makes the device. “We get a lot of small college buy-in, because they don’t have the helmet reconditioning budget or they don’t have multiple set of helmets.”
Given NCAA regulations that limit teams to one day of live tackling and one day of thud -- or live contact without tackling -- per week in practice, concussions are not as prevalent during the week.
Instead, many college teams that use Guardian Caps implement run-oriented schemes or they only use them in specific position groups such as linemen.
When Augustana first began using Guardian Caps in spring practice of 2016, they were issued to linemen, linebackers, tight ends and running backs. By the fall, all position groups began wearing them, except non-contact positions such as quarterbacks and kickers.
Simonds even received feedback that slot receivers and defensive backs enjoyed wearing them because it reduced contact to knees by acting like a knee or elbow pad would when they gave or received cut blocks.
“When we go without pads, there’s so many bumps on elbows and hands that get banged on helmets,” Augustana head coach Jerry Olszewski said. “That was just one more opportunity for us to avoid a couple of those hard-surface contacts in a practice situation. It seemed to deflect (the contact) more.”
Neither DWU or Augustana was aware of any study performed by the school or training staff on reduction of head injuries while wearing the Guardian Caps, but both programs intend to continue wearing them until any facts contradict their effectiveness.