BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The average high school football player has 650 hits to the head a season.
"The overall athlete themselves has gotten bigger, faster, stronger," said Bessemer Academy coach Jonathan Wright.
"[Head] impacts are obviously going to be harder when you take a kid [who is] a lot faster than has ever been recorded before, 100 pounds heavier than [the same player] was 30 years ago. That impact is going to be a lot harder to bear," Wright said.
That's why constant upkeep is required to maintain each helmet's integrity.
"A lot can happen in a year if you have players like we play, that play pretty physical," said Dora head coach, Johnny Wright.
"They could put a helmet on and it may have a crack in it that we don't see, so that's why it's worth it to me knowing we did everything we could [to keep our athletes safe]," Wright said.
In an effort to prevent head injuries, coaches send their helmets off for an annual checkup, also known as helmet reconditioning and recertification.
"We take in about 25,000 helmets a year," Tucker Manufacturing CEO John Tucker said.
"Over 4,000 of [those helmets] don't [pass each year]. We are disposing of [those] helmets. We're actually taking [them] out of the schools, youth leagues, colleges, wherever football is being played," Tucker said.
"We are a useful tool for coaches and schools to hold down chances of severe injuries by just bringing their helmets in. We check them all over, making sure the airliners hold air [and that] we don't see any bad deterioration in the parts," he explained.
Tucker Manufacturing currently recertifies and reconditions high school and middle school helmets from 15 states and three SEC football teams. In the process, helmets are checked to make sure each part is functioning properly.
Schools spend an average of $2,500 on helmet reconditioning and recertification each time it's done, which for many schools is yearly. Then they add in the additional cost of replacing the rejected helmets with new ones.
"You know, if we're sitting here talking about money, well, we're talking about a kid's life," Jonathan Wright said. "We are talking about a kid's well-being, so it's worth every penny to us."
The reconditioning and recertification process starts and ends with the helmet drop test, an impact equivalent to that of a player running 12 mph into a flat surface.
The drop test measures the helmet's G-force over time with an accelerometer inside the helmet. The accelerometer then provides a severity index number, a scientifically accepted measurement of human injury tolerance.
After the helmet passes the drop test, all parts and decals are removed. Some of the stickers are peeled off while others are buffed off.
If a crack or defect is found, the helmet is immediately rejected. Helmets are then taken completely apart to just the shell.
Since there are no laws or rules requiring helmet reconditioning and recertification in the state of Alabama, a helmet with a crack, no matter the size, must be immediately rejected since it is unknown when the school will bring that helmet back in to get re-checked.
Each crack continuously grows in size the longer it exists.
In the recertification and reconditioning process, each internal part of the helmet is also inspected and cleaned through specially-made helmet washing machines before that helmet is passed onto another child.
Helmets are then re-painted, the internal parts are re-installed, then inspected and checked again. Finally, recertification stickers are placed on approved helmets, which are shipped back to schools. The entire process normally takes about four to eight weeks.
"It costs to play this game," Dora's coach Johnny Wright said. "But let me tell you something. The cost is well worth the chances of something happening to a kid for not having a proper helmet. The worst thing a coach could have would be to lose a kid for a head injury."