Concord HS football coach working to keep players safe in first year on the job

CONCORD, N.C. (WBTV) - The football team at Concord High School has a new leader at the helm. Marty Paxton, a Concord native, will be running the show as the Spiders hit the gridiron this fall.

Spring practices are already underway at the high school. The start of the season is months away but Paxton admits he's feeling the pressure. "You asked me if it was a pressure filled job and as you're looking at the trophies – yes it is," Paxton said.

The new coach understands the role he's stepping into. He played football at Concord High School in the early 90s. His office, which is located in the campus field house, is filled with trophies the football program has collected over the years.

"I graduated high school here in 1994. I played from first grade through 12th grade," said Paxton.

While Paxton is responsible for winning games and bringing new trophies to the mantle, he also has a duty to keep his players safe. It's a responsibility he takes seriously.

"I think it's personally one of the greatest sports out there and yet it's one of the most dangerous," he said.

Researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health have extensively studied injuries in high school athletes across the country. According to their data, football has the highest concussion rate among all high school sports.

Doctors working in sports medicine for Atrium Health have also compiled statistics from high school athletes in Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, Lincoln and Stanly counties. They've recorded 693 concussions among local student-athletes since July 2017.

Dr. Kevin Burroughs, who is the medical director for Sports Medicine and Injury Care at Carolinas Healthcare System, is all too familiar with concussions. He is on the sidelines at a local field every Friday night during football season. The doctor explained how concussions can occur.

"It might be from a direct hit. It might just be the body blow or the shake of the head that can lead you to all these processes," Burroughs said.

It's his responsibility to make sure a player is medically cleared to continue playing after an injury.

"Let's say you did have that first concussion. Is it okay to go back? The data we have now says that yeah you probably could," Burroughs said. "Is there an increased risk? Yeah, but there was also that risk when you stepped on the field the first time."

The doctor said that before a player is allowed to return to the field following a concussion they must first be academically OK with no concussion symptoms.

Coach Paxton is doing his best to keep his players injury-free. He teaches halt tackling, a newer, safer tackling method used by players to bring down an opponent.

"You tackle them with your head on the outside of the body. Once you make contact with them and you wrap the legs, you roll with them," Paxton said.

The Concord coach said he makes sure all of his players are aware of the injury risk before they step out on to the field. He said Cabarrus County also mandates that a certified trainer be present at the field if a team is practicing with pads.

While the coach knows the game is dangerous, he believes the camaraderie and fellowship that come from playing the physical sport make it worth the risk.

"It's obviously the reason that I'm here, Paxton said. "Because of football I was able to accomplish a goal in my life to become the head coach here."

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