As the nation was captivated by the football game that has become its most popular sporting event, California lawmakers are looking to make the sport safer for its youngest players.
"Showing kids the helmet isn't used as a weapon, it's the technique,” said Troy Lancaster, who is a coach and athletic director for the River City Junior Raiders in West Sacramento.
More so now than ever, Lancaster says there's an emphasis, often turned fear, of youth concussions and the long-term effects football has on the brain. He says youth leagues and coaches already acknowledge the problem and take steps to minimize risk of severe head trauma.
"If [players] have any sense of a daze, the way they talk, hesitation, or how the eyes look, the official will say hey we think he's concussed. He is done,” Lancaster said.
"More and more research shows concussions happen at an early age and brain developments key for kids 10 to 12 years of age,” said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento.
McCarty will introduce a bill this week to apply the same concussion standards in high school football to youth and pee wee ball.
"We love football, but there's a cost to it. The more information and safeguards in place to protect the players including kids, it's a better thing,” McCarty said.
The bill would mandate youth teams to have a concussion plan in place for players, coaches would need medical training that deals with head trauma before they participated in team activity and players with concussion symptoms would be removed from the game -- no questions asked.
Lancaster, who's also a dad to two young players, says safety begins with how players are taught to hit.
"We teach them how to impact correctly,” he said.
His wife, Kathleen, follows the group “Mom’s team,” a safety resource for athletes’ parents. She says it’s a useful, accurate tool for any parents with safety concerns for their kids.
"I have the information I need to make the decision and say my sons are going to be perfectly fine,” she said.
Ultimately, the two say allowing kids to play is a choice parents must make.
Lancaster says youth sports in general are about providing children with a sense of responsibility and work ethic.
"What can we teach the youth as a football program that can make them a better person?” said Lancaster.
They believe football's life lessons for their sons outweigh the risk.
Lancaster says advances in helmet technology are also making football safer for younger players, but the risk of concussion is always there.