Taylor column: Switzer head injury draws attention to concussions
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - George Washington High School will honor its 1982 Class AAA state championship football team Friday night.
While the school is hoping to have many of the players from '82 on hand for a ceremony before the school's game against Ashland Paul Blazer (Ky.), the more relevant question surrounds the status of a player on the currently top-ranked Patriots roster.
Let's not mince words, either. That player, senior running back Ryan Switzer, is the most decorated - and perhaps the best - player to come through GW in the program's 49-year history. We're not talking about a backup place-kick holder here.
Switzer, the winner of the 2011 Kennedy Award, a North Carolina commitment for the Tar Heels' 2013 recruiting class and a two-time Class AAA All-State selection, was named to the USA Today's Preseason All-America Team last week. Just days later, he suffered a much (and appropriately) publicized concussion and a bruised shoulder early in the Patriots' season-opening win at South Charleston after just two carries.
True to his historic form, however, Switzer took the first carry 61 yards for a touchdown.
Switzer visited Dr. Clark Adkins on Monday, who cleared Switzer's shoulder to play against the Tomcats (2-0). The concussion, meanwhile, is another issue.
"Everything checks out good, but with concussions it's mandatory five-day rest and evaluation. All coaches have had to go through testing on this," Switzer's father, Michael Switzer, said Monday.
"Head injuries are no joke. He's passed all the tests, so we're hopeful he'll be cleared."
The Secondary School Activities Commission introduced a program in June to educate prep coaches on the symptoms and dangers of concussions. A 30-minute video was required viewing for all football coaches prior to the first preseason scrimmage.
Ryan Switzer's five-day wait before resuming practice, a measure that sees his return to the field coming Thursday, is not part of the SSAC mandate. It comes from the Switzers' family physician. The governing body has a return-to-play protocol in place for in-game situations, but nothing on the books for what happens once a player is actually diagnosed with a concussion.
Such a protocol would require paperwork to be filed with, and tracked by, the SSAC. Instead, the governing body relies on family doctors of the players to make a determination of when such a player is ready to return.
This could have dangerous implications. Switzer was cleared to return to play at Oakes Field after running into the GW bench and sustaining his head injury. After being checked and cleared, he wobbled back onto the field to punt for GW, and soon after taken off site to an emergency room.
Obviously, the initial, on-site diagnosis was incorrect, and perhaps that could be helped. Perhaps it cannot. I would trust trainers at GW as much as I would trust those at any West Virginia Conference college, at the very least. But once it was verified that Switzer had sustained a concussion in an event sanctioned by the SSAC, should it not be of concern to the governing body enough to record and track the event?
The NFL isn't the only level of football where players have become bigger, faster, stronger and ultimately more dangerous to each other's bodies. There will come a day when a high school player in West Virginia sustains a concussion, gets cleared to return to action the next day by a family physician, then turns around the following Tuesday and absorbs a hit in practice that causes irreparable brain damage or worse, kills him.
An injury-filing program and mandatory resting period are in the best interest of not only the players in question, but for the SSAC legal team. Better safe than sorry.
As for the specific player in this situation, Switzer remained remarkably chipper when talking about his status Saturday.
"(It) scared me, but I'll be back even more hungry," he wrote in a text message. "P.S. I'm still gonna win the Kennedy."
Every GW opponent, and quite a few people who don't face off against the Patriots this season, will be sure to take that statement as braggadocio. Those who know Switzer, however, know it to be perfectly representative of the resolve he possesses.
To him, the statement means, "My goal is to win the Kennedy Award again."
But there is no "try" to Switzer. Call it Zen, call it a Jedi mind trick, call it whatever you'd like, but the 17-year-old sees life in a very "do or do not"-sort of way.
The funny thing is that if he returns quickly and remains healthy, he's probably right.