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Helmet ratings used to keep local high school football players safe

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LEXINGTON, N.C. -- Preseason practices for high school football are underway in the Piedmont Triad and safety is the number-one priority for every parent and coach.

While they want the best equipment to keep kids safe, medical experts agree, a helmet cannot prevent a concussion in football. But studies show the type of helmet a player wears can seriously lessen the risk of injuries.

At Lexington Senior High School, coaches try to buy six to eight new helmets every year. With dozens of players on the team, chances are pretty high that the helmet your student's playing in got knocked around in last season's games.

So how do you know if they're still safe? FOX8 went to the team's practice to find out.

When the Lexington Yellow Jackets hit the field for their first game later this month, there will be only one thing on their mind.

"Once your start playing, everything goes blank, just do what you got to do," said Saafir Craven, the team's starting quarterback.

Head Coach Chuck Henderson wants safety to be ingrained in their technique. He says it all starts with the right gear.

"Helmet technology's gotten better," he said.

Lexington's coaches use the Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings to make sure their players have the safest gear on the market. The system ranks adult football helmets from one to five stars. The higher the rating, the better a helmet can reduce the risk of concussions.

"There's no such thing as a concussion-proof helmet. Just like in a car, there's no such thing as injury-proof seat belts," Henderson said.

These players are using the Riddell Speedflex, a five-star helmet.

"Our kids, I think, we have them safe as can possibly be," Henderson said.

But helmets only last up to 10 years and most of the ones on this team are about seven years old. So at the end of every season, the team packs the helmets up, and sends them back to the manufacturer.

"They take them apart , they clean them, they check them, all the air packs and everything in them," Henderson said. "They do a compression test on them. If they past the compression test, they repaint them and ship them back to us. If they don't, or if they're aged out, they keep them and put a reject sticker on them."

Some helmets get rejected every year, so the team still spends about $5,000 each season on new helmets.

A higher price tag doesn't necessarily mean you're getting a better helmet. The three-star Schutt Air XP Ultralite runs for about $250. It's the same cost of the five-star Rawlings Quantum Plus.

Henderson wants parents to be aware of the risks for concussions or injuries but hopes it won't discourage them from signing their teens up for football.

"There's opportunity for injuries. There's an opportunity also," he said. "I think the good really outweighs the bad in football. What you really learn from teamwork, counting on others, dependability, doing your job, trusting the people around you, I think that's of a whole lot more value than the fear of an injury."