Never before has Cody Clarke taken so much pride and ownership of a piece of football equipment.
Not until this 2022 high school football season, at least.
He’s one of 10 Battle Ground High School football players wearing the latest in safety, science and technology when it comes to a football helmet.
“It protects me,” said Clarke, the Tigers’ senior middle linebacker and called the hardest hitter on the team by coach Mike Woodward, “and I protect it.”
That ‘it’ is the Riddell-made Axiom, a helmet produced on an athlete-to-athlete basis and helps improve impact response to prevent head injuries. Riddell first launched the helmet earlier this year and made it available to NFL teams and college programs.
Now, it’s trickled down to the high school ranks.
Locally, Battle Ground joins Camas and Seton Catholic as the three football programs in Clark County with select players wearing the Axiom model.
What makes the helmet unique? A scanning app captures a three-dimensional (3D) image of an athlete’s head to customize the helmet’s internal system of pads for a personalized fit. Players say the interior padding, engineered to lessen the impact of helmet-to-helmet contact, feels similar to memory foam.
Externally, the helmet’s shell has multiple flex panels that work to reduce impact on collision. It also features smart technology sensoring, which analyzes a player’s head impact exposure and tracks data in real time. No teams locally have activated that feature yet, but plan to in the near future.
Seton Catholic coach Dennis Herling keeps extra tabs on the latest in football safety and goes above and beyond to provide players access to the best equipment possible. Not just because of his title as head coach, but also because of Herling’s personal experience as somebody with seven documented concussions.
This off-season, Herling informed players’ families of the option to purchase Axiom helmets or stick with the program’s current models. About 25 percent of the program’s players wear Axioms.
The price tag? About $700, but they’re worth every dollar, Herling said.
“I’m at a place where it’s like, there’s nothing you can do to prevent it for me now,” the coach said. “That ship has sailed, but what I can do is help prevent it to the best of my ability as a coach. … This might really change the game and reduce the number of concussions.”
At Battle Ground, the 10 players who wear Axiom helmets feel grateful and privileged, especially since the helmets are courtesy of Michael Roos, an ex-NFL lineman with Clark County roots.
Roos is a 2000 Mountain View High graduate who played just one season of high school football — Woodward’s first year as the Thunder’s head coach in 1999.
Throughout Roos’ 10-year NFL career with the Tennessee Titans and long after retiring in 2015, Woodward, now at Battle Ground, said his ex-player has routinely given back to his former head coach.
In 2021, when Woodward coached at Woodland, Roos purchased new uniforms for the Beavers. Now that Woodward is at Battle Ground, Roos again opened his wallet to purchase state-of-the-art helmets to help boost his former high school coach’s new program.
“He’s been incredible just as far as the stuff he’s given and helped out with,” Woodward said.
Woodward said current Tigers deemed “core leaders” received the helmets purchased by Roos. That includes receiver Michael Kennedy, and Clarke, the middle linebacker, who say there’s a high level of comfort and peace of mind when it comes to safety. Both players noted in past seasons when they’d make or absorb a hard hit, a slight headache may appear.
Not anymore, they said.
“I just haven’t had any problems at all,” Kennedy said. … “Having these nicer helmets is a big advantage, honestly, for protection and just health concerns.”
Said Clarke: “I don’t feel a thing when I hit somebody. Obviously, I can feel a little bit of contact, but this helps tremendously.”
How the helmet looks to players and fans differs from others. Riddell created a reimagined facemask — removal of the top crossbar and a wider, panoramic look for increased peripheral vision.
Receiver Artem Bahnyuk noted that “it gives you a bigger view of the field. You get to see a lot more.”
But the increased safety aspect that Battle Ground players agreed feel is the common denominator.
Said Kennedy: “I feel like I’m more safe wearing this. This is like a mattress (around my head). … It absorbs the hits.”