Numbers compiled by the Minnesota State High School League show a decent drop-off in the number of varsity football players over the past decade, and that has many wondering if increased concussion awareness is causing parents to keep their kids out of the game.
While no one is suggesting that the 12.5 percent decline is all safety related, the issue of taking hard hits over and over -- especially to the head -- is worrisome for everyone involved in the sport.
Coaches and players are fired up as the season's first practices kick off, and longtime Eden Prairie head coach Mike Grant says his team of state champs is still going strong -- but he is noticing a decline at the youth level.
"I think the whole concussion scare has affected it that way," Grant said.
Evan Perrizo, who is a senior with the Eden Prairie Eagles, suffered a concussion late last year; however, that didn't stop him from rejoining his teammates on Monday.
"It was dizzying -- lights bright," he recalled.
Others might not be so keen on coming back, however. During the 2002 season, there were more than 29,500 student athletes in 377 varsity high football school teams in Minnesota. Last year, there were only 25,850 players for the same number of teams.
"Is it dangerous?" asked Mary Griffith, of the Concussion Clinic. "Hockey is dangerous -- wrestling, so it's not more dangerous than any other sport."
Griffith says more awareness about on-field safety -- especially blows to the head -- has led to better player protection. For example, Eden Prairie's coaches rarely have their players hit one another during practice sessions.