Even though concussion awareness has increased tenfold the past several years, it is still a hot-button issue and cited by some as a reason participation in football California's most popular high school sport has declined since 2007.
Recent headline-grabbing stories of former NFL players committing suicide, as well as a lawsuit against the league filed by nearly 3,000 former players and players' family members claiming a cover-up over the perils of head trauma, has left some questioning whether the sport is too dangerous for teens and their still-developing brains.
But coaches and administrators say much is being done to protect players from head injuries, including cutting-edge baseline testing at some schools.
Coaches are being more resourceful about the amount of contact in practice; more cognizant of helmet wear and fit; and vigilant about teaching techniques to avoid helmet-to-helmet contact.
"I think the concern about concussions is hurting numbers a little bit, but I also think there's a lot more awareness now than when I played," said Rio Linda football coach Mike Morris, who said he suffered a severe concussion as a high school player only to play the next week.
Referees now have the authority to remove a player from a game if they suspect a concussion has been suffered. Under state law, players are not allowed to return to practice until they have been cleared by a medical professional.
A bill (AB 1451) requiring high school coaches to complete concussion training also passed the California Assembly and Senate by unanimous votes and was signed into law Friday by Gov. Jerry Brown. High school coaches would be required to take a concussion course every two years, just as they now do for CPR and first aid training.
Mesa Verde football coach and athletic director Ron Barney is a supporter of the new law, having suffered a severe concussion in an alumni football game years ago.
"It's a good course and covers everything you need to know," Barney said. "I'm excited about it."
Some schools are being proactive on the issue of concussions.
Oakmont spent nearly $6,000 to buy 75 Guardian Caps, a protective cover worn over helmets during practice where 90 percent of concussions occur, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sacramento City Unified School District high schools are in the first year of a program through the Sacramento Valley Concussion Care Consortium, which provides baseline neurocognitive testing and access to qualified health care providers.
Doctors and health care workers from the area's four biggest medical providers Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, Dignity Health and the UC Davis Medical Center have been trained to provide a level of diagnosis and treatment that used to be available only to pro athletes.
"It's an all-star team of doctors," said Mike Lamb, who helped organize the consortium and is marketing it through his Wells Fargo Student Insurance Division. "You have someone like Jeff Tanji at UC Davis, the Sacramento Kings' doctor, who might see Tyreke Evans on a Tuesday and a high school freshman football player on a Wednesday."
Lamb is a former college football player and radio personality whose son Logan played football last season at Del Oro, another school that participates in the testing program.
Morris, whose school is in the Twin Rivers Unified School District, and Barney, who also serves as the San Juan Unified School District director of athletics, hope to see baseline testing at their schools soon.
"Right now it's a matter of the logistics and there is a cost it isn't free but it's something we want to do," Barney said.
Lamb noted that problematic head injuries can be costly for schools.
A San Diego area school district agreed to pay a $4.4 million settlement earlier this year to a man who suffered a head injury in 2007 playing high school football at Mission Hills High School in San Marcos.
"We've had a lot of schools and districts reach out to us because there's a lot of anxiety out there," Lamb said. "We feel we're the epicenter of the solution."