Manteca High quarterback Matt Barber was too focused on finding his receiver downfield to see the defenders flying toward him Friday night.
Barber was hit just as he released the ball, landing on the artificial turf -- his head snapping back as it hit.
The 4,000 fans in The Corral at Oakdale High expected Barber to get up, but there was no movement at all for 15 seconds as the crowd got quiet. Barber regained consciousness, but the emergency medical technicians strapped him to a stretcher and took him to the hospital to be observed.
The diagnosis was that Barber had suffered a concussion when his helmet bounced off the turf. He'll sit out Friday's game against Central Valley, coach Eric Reis, but the prognosis looks good for Barber to return for the Week 10 finale.
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"They took him to Oak Valley (Hospital) and looked him over, and everything appears OK," Reis said. "Everyone's glad to see Matt's all right."
It was a scary moment, and one that deserves special attention in light of the recent reports of retired NFL players blaming mental problems on gridiron head injuries.
Experts say they know very little about long-term medical risks of concussion for high school players.
A congressional hearing in Washington on Wednesday focused on the NFL. A month ago, a preliminary study suggested that retired players might have a higher than normal rate of Alzheimer's disease or memory problems, presumably because of head injuries. But at the hearing, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said he'd seek records on head injuries in amateur ranks as well, "because of the effect on the millions of players at the college, high school and youth levels."
Every year, up to 1 in 10 high school football players has a concussion, estimated Kevin Guskiewicz of the University of North Carolina. He is lead author of the National Athletic Trainers' Association position statement on concussion management. He said nobody has followed such players systematically for a decade or more to see what effect concussions might have.
He is concerned. In 2005, he published a study of retired pro players that found having three or more concussions was associated with greater risk of cognitive impairment after 50.
"One would assume a high school player who likewise had three or more during his high school years would potentially be predisposed to some of these same long-term neurodegenerative conditions that NFL players are," he said. But, he stressed, there's no evidence for that.
Mark Lovell, who directs the sports medicine concussion program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said he has begun to collect data on long-term consequences of high school concussions. He noted there is no big database yet of people who've been followed a long time since high school.
As it stands, "we can't look into the future" and tell who is going to develop a long-term problem from one or more concussions, he said.
"I don't think anyone knows exactly what the long-term risk is, and I wish I did. ... For a given kid, if we knew that kid was going to be at risk for long-term problems, we could get him or her in a different sport," Lovell said.
What can be done now to reduce the risk of long-term trouble? Experts say players, coaches and parents must learn to recognize the symptoms of a concussion, and be ready to pull affected players until a health professional clears them to play. Players should not return to action until their brains heal, because it's dangerous to get a second concussion when the brain is still recovering from the first one.
"When in doubt, sit them out," Lovell said.
Determining when it's safe to play again is more complicated than just waiting until symptoms disappear, said Dr. Anthony Alessi, who co-chairs the American Academy of Neurology's sports neurology section.
Alessi, chief of neurology at the William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich, Conn., suggests that coaches limit the number of practices in which players slam into each other at full speed. Teams that have only one full-contact practice a week perform as well as those with four, with much less risk of concussion, Alessi said.
"We can reduce the risk and still keep the level of play up there," he said.
For more: www.cdc.gov/ncipc/tbi/ Coaches_Tool_Kit