Mooney grad with firm that designed cutting-edge helmet
By Greg Gulas
As a former football player who competed at both the high school and collegiate levels, Dean Congemi was always cognizant of the fact that he was one play away from a career-ending injury or concussion protocol.
Helmet safety has been a concern as far back as he can remember so when the opportunity came up last May to become a part of Seattle-based VICIS Group, developers of the cutting-edge ZERO1 helmet, he jumped at the opportunity.
It’s an opportunity he wished he had been presented sooner in his professional career.
“VICIS in Latin means ‘change’ and while the helmet industry is about 30 years behind the automobile industry in terms of development and added safety features, we’re well on our way with change,” Congemi said while speaking Monday to the Curbstone Coaches during their weekly meeting at Avion Banquet Center. “Numbers in high school are dropping because of parents’ concerns about safety due to concussion reports and studies, as well as student-athletes who choose to play just one sport and do so year round. There aren’t as many multi-sport athletes as there were in the past.”
VICIS was founded in 2013 by a group of engineers and neurosurgeons, medical experts, trainers, former and current NFL football players and equipment managers. They undertook a three-year, $20 million research and development effort to what they feel has hopefully reinvented the helmet while aligning it with 21st century standards.
“Players currently wear the same polycarbonate football helmet shells that were designed in 1978 to help protect against skull fractures,” he said. “The only change has been on the inside with extra padding and now cut-outs on the outside to help avoid pressure. Coaches, administrators and parents are concerned that football is going to have to do something in order to save the game.”
Prior to joining VICIS, Congemi worked in the medical field for 20 years as a member of Johnson & Johnson’s RTI surgical unit, dealing with ACL and rotator cuff injuries.
The initial recipient of the Ron Stoops Award while a member of the Cardinal Mooney 1987 state championship football team, Congemi can trace his gridiron lineage to grandfather “Ace,” a former Youngstown College star, father Tony, who served on Don Bucci’s Cardinals’ staff and won four state titles and cousin John, a former Pitt standout who now serves as an ESPN Game Day football analyst.
He noted that approximately 70 NFL players are wearing his Zero1 helmet, including Alex Smith, Russel Wilson, Lamar Miller, David Johnson, Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate to name a few.
More than 20 top-level college teams including Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan State and Alabama are believers while Youngstown State boasts three players wearing their design.
He said “no helmet is concussion-proof,” but the Zero1 offers up to a 73 percent improvement over other helmets. The helmet features several layers that compress during contact which protects players from hits from multiple directions.
Congemi noted that 60 percent of concussions come from side impact and from rotational acceleration hits stemming from helmet to helmet, limbs (legs and shoulders) and the ground.
“The passenger in today’s car is so much safer than 30 years ago through research, design and engineering,” he said. “VICIS feels that the passenger in their Zero1 helmet is the brain. Our helmet was ranked No. 1 this past May in an independent study conducted by the NFL/NFLPA which tested 33 versions of helmets. The extensive study accounted for both rotational and linear acceleration forces and the chart results hang in all 32 NFL Locker rooms.”
While the helmet is currently worn by just a handful of players at the high school level, Congemi said the push has already begun to target scholastic programs and players.
“VICIS is committed to bringing the top level NFL and college teams’ success that they’ve enjoyed with our helmet in 2017, to the high school level, junior high and youth programs in 2018, and then pee-wee programs in 2019,” he said. “Locally, Jack McGlone [whose father Mike also played at Cardinal Mooney and YSU], tested the helmet after being in concussion protocol. He was amazed with the difference once he got back on the field.”
Next week, former YSU athletics marketing director and current Cleveland Cavaliers vendor coordinator Bruce Burge will be the featured speaker.