Pac-12 Logo

Pac-12 safety push to focus in part on reducing practice contact

2 Comments

Over the past few years and especially over the past several months, a significant amount of time and effort has been focused on the safety of student-athletes at the collegiate level.  Specifically, how to further reduce the risk of Eric LeGrand-type injuries as well as head injuries at all levels of football.

Monday afternoon, one of the most powerful conferences in the country became the latest to take a significant step in the arena of player safety.

In a release, the Pac-12 announced that it has launched a comprehensive student-athlete health initiative that will be implemented in time for the 2013-14 academic year.  The initiative, unanimously approved by the conference’s presidents and chancellors over the weekend, “will build upon current efforts to improve the health and safety of Pac-12 student-athletes while establishing new activities,” the release stated.

“The group acknowledges that it is impossible to eliminate all injuries, but has developed the initiative to find ways to reduce injuries today, share current best practices and latest studies, and conduct research to uncover new ways to keep student-athletes as safe as possible,” the conference added.

Two of the four prongs of the initiative are directly related to football.

The one that will likely garner the most attention is the creation of a formal policy limiting the amount of contact in practice.  While a uniform policy has yet to be finalized — that’s expected to happen at the Pac-12 football media day July 26 — the conference stated that its group “will look at guidelines around contact in practice to ensure that student-athlete well-being is being closely monitored, both in the amount of contact and in providing our student-athletes and coaches with ample opportunity to teach and learn the correct tackling methods during the spring and preseason.”

Additionally as related to the sport this site covers, the conference will continue the push to reduce injuries from the neck up by creating a Head Trauma Task Force.  That group, headed by the Pac-12’s General Counsel and Director of Football and will include coaches, administrators and doctors from Pac-12 institutions, will look to find ways to limit damage and exposure to student-athletes.

“Pac-12 institutions house the leading medical trainers, doctors, and scientists working to enhance student-athlete health and well being,” said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott in a statement. “Our athletic departments and coaches have been very progressive in this area and are deeply committed to advancing these efforts,” he added. “This initiative seizes on our opportunity to embrace, support, and coordinate all these efforts and build a framework to advance them with new resources, expertise and funding.”

Other prongs of the initiative include the following:

  • Student-Athlete Health & Well-Being Research Program: Under this new program, the Pac-12 will establish a steering committee of top doctors and researchers from Pac-12 institutions, convene a summit in early 2014 where doctors and researchers share research and joint initiatives, and commit $3.5M in research grants for projects at Pac-12 institutions aimed at improving student-athlete health and well being.
  • Student-Athlete Health Conference: This Pac-12 will lead and enhance the annual Student-Athlete Health Conference. This meeting has been in existence for 10+ years as a forum for doctors and medical trainers from Pac-12 institutions to share best practices, review ongoing research studies and evaluate Pac-12 policies. In its first year as a Pac-12 event, the Pac-12 will introduce new speakers and programs to advance collaboration of all 12 universities, and establish an official process for implementing recommendations put forth by the conference.

“The health and well-being of our more than 7,000 student-athletes competing within the Pac-12 each year is of paramount importance,” said Pac-12 CEO Group chairperson Ed Ray. “This new initiative is a great step towards taking advantage of the full resources of our research institutions for the benefit of our student-athletes.”

San Jose State QB Malik Watson latest to take grad transfer route

SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 29:  The San Jose State Spartans marching band plays their fight song against the Fresno State Bulldogs in the second quarter on November 29, 2013 at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, California.  The Spartans won 62-52.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a college football player has decided to ply his final season of college football wares elsewhere.

The latest to take that tack is Malik Watson, who announced via Twitter that he has “decided that I will not be returning to San Jose State for my senior and will be seeking elsewhere to pursue my dream.”  As Watson will graduate from SJSU this May, he will be eligible to play immediately in 2016 if he lands at another FBS school and enrolls in a grad program not offered at his former school.

Watson added that, as he awaits a new destination, he “will continue to train with my private QB coach in this meantime.”

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

A California high school product who was born in Hawaii, Watson transferred from the junior college ranks to SJSU in 2014. After redshirting that first year, the 6-3, 208-pound Watson played in two games as the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart.

In that time, Watson completed 9-of-15 passes for 59 yards and an interception. Of the 15 attempts, 14 came in the Week 3 loss to Oregon State.

Illini grad transfer T.J. Neal to visit WVU, Auburn

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMPER 27: Linebacker T.J. Neal #52 of the Illinois Fighting Illini arches of running back Ameer Abdullah #8 of the Nebraska Cornhuskersduring their game at Memorial Stadium on September 27, 2014 in Lincoln, Nebraska.  (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

T.J. Neal does not yet know where he will continue his collegiate career, but it appears the linebacker has significantly narrowed the field.

A little less than two weeks ago, Neal, after being told by the coaching staff that they were planning to move him from middle to strongside linebacker, decided to transfer out of the Illinois football program.  As he will be a graduate transfer upon earning his degree in May, Neal will be eligible to play at another FBS program in 2016.

Enter West Virginia and Auburn, two teams which have been in contact with Neal and vice versa.  According to al.com, Neal will visit Morgantown this coming Monday, then head to The Plains a week later.

Upon the announcement of an impending departure, Illini head coach Bill Cubit said the Pennsylvania native “was talking about playing closer to home.”  Even as a move to Auburn would be the exact opposite of that, Neal seems genuinely excited over the prospects.

“Being able to play down there in Alabama, it’s like a dream come true,” Neal told Brandon Marcello of al.com. “From my high school, I never thought I’d play at a big-time school like Auburn. To have a chance now, it’s exciting to play against some of the top players in the country.”

According to blueandgoldsports.com, Penn State and Pittsburgh are/were also in play. It’s unclear if he’s visited or plans to visit those schools in his home state, although it was originally thought that the Nittany Lions could be high on Neal’s to-do list.

Not only is Neal a native of McKeesport, Pa., but Tim Banks, the Illini’s co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach the past four seasons, left in December to become the Nittany Lions’ coordinator.  PSU has also seen a pair of linebackers, Troy Reeder and Gary Wooten Jr., transfer out this month, meaning the opportunity for a starting job would certainly be on the table.

Regardless, Neal expects to make a decision shortly after the Feb. 15 visit to Auburn. He would then enroll in his new school of choice shortly after his graduation from Illinois.

Neal was a two-year starter for the Illini who finished second on the team in tackles (109) this past season.  He was named honorable mention All-Big Ten for his play in 2015.

Hip issue forces Mizzou RB Morgan Steward to retire

Morgan Steward
Missouri athletics
Leave a comment

Thomas Tyner isn’t the only Power Five running back forced to step away from the sport because of injury.

Back in November of 2014, Morgan Steward sustained a hip injury during the early portion of Missouri’s summer camp.  Specifically, the running back said at the time, “[m]y hip joint popped out of place, tore things around, pulled off some of the bone.”

Surgery that November sidelined him until camp the following year, but Steward managed to play the first three games of the 2015 season. Unfortunately, the back was shut down in late September for the remainder of the year; five months later, he’s being shut down permanently as Mizzou officials have confirmed that Steward will be forced to retire from the sport and end the playing portion of his football career.

A three-star member of the Tigers’ 2012 recruiting class, Steward ran for 84 yards and a touchdown as a redshirt freshman. Prior to the hip injury the following year, Steward was viewed as a back who could potentially shoulder a significant portion of the running-game load, rushing for 117 yards and three touchdowns in a scrimmage during spring practice in 2014. Post-injury, he ran for 18 yards in the three 2015 games.

The good news for Steward is that he has his degree from Mizzou in business communications.

Ole Miss QB Ryan Buchanan opts to quit football

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - NOVEMBER 22:  Ryan Buchanan #9 of the Ole Miss Rebels throws a pass in the fourth quarter of a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium on November 22, 2014 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Razorbacks defeated the Rebels 30-0.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ole Miss had already lost one quarterback to a transfer the past couple of months.  Now, the Rebels are losing another via different means but essentially for the same reason.

In an interview with Scout.com, Ryan Buchanan confirmed that not only is he leaving the Ole Miss football team, but he’s leaving the sport, period.  Buchanan’s decision to step away from the game is actually the culmination of a process that began midway through a 2015 season that would see the Rebels win 10 games and a Sugar Bowl title.

“I came to the conclusion a few months ago that football would not be my future and it was time to start applying myself 100% to my future,” he said. “It’s time for me to find my passion beyond football.”

Buchanan, who said he briefly flirted with transferring to another school, informed head coach Hugh Freeze and his position coach, Dan Werner, of his decision a couple of weeks ago.

If Buchanan had decided to return to Oxford, he would’ve been no better than third on the depth chart. All-SEC quarterback Chad Kelly is firmly entrenched as the starter, while five-star 2015 signee and future at the position Shea Patterson is poised to be Kelly’s backup for a season before taking over the reins in 2017. There’s also no guarantee that the sophomore could beat out redshirt freshman Jason Pellerin for the No. 3 spot.

A four-star member of the Rebels’ 2013 recruiting class, Buchanan was rated as the No. 19 pro-style quarterback in the country and the No. 3 player at any position in the state of Mississippi.  After taking a redshirt as a true freshman, Buchanan attempted 22 passes and served as Ole Miss’ holder on kick attempts in 2014.  This past season, he attempted 13 passes, two of which went for touchdowns.

In early December, DeVante Kincade, a three-star recruit in Buchanan’s class, announced his decision to transfer from the Rebels.