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Liberty football helmet prototype wins second place in NFL competition

Liberty University football helmet prototype
Liberty University football helmet prototype(Liberty University)
Published: Feb. 3, 2021 at 12:31 PM EST
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LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ/Liberty University Release) - A football helmet developed by a Liberty University dean and his team of Ph.D. research fellows and undergraduates is one of four finalists in the NFL’s sixth annual “1st and Future” pitch competition.

Dr. Mark Horstemeyer, Dean of Liberty University’s School of Engineering, oversaw the project for the competition, designed to “spur innovation in athlete health, safety, and performance,” according to Liberty, whose work is associated with Genesis Helmets, Inc.

Using an approach trademarked at Liberty University that he calls “Creationeering,” Horstemeyer incorporated properties found in nature to design a football helmet designed to be twice as effective at preventing concussions as those currently used by the NFL.

By analyzing shock absorptive properties found in the rack of a bighorn sheep and the beak of a woodpecker, the team worked to design the safer helmet — and potentially more protective car bumpers, according to a Liberty release.

“I asked God, ‘Why do these rams or American buffalo, when they hit each other hit right on their foreheads, or woodpeckers when they peck, not get headaches or concussions?” said Horstemeyer. “God gave me that insight in revelation. He had His way of designing something with this impact-resistant material. They all had the same design, which argues for the same Designer.”

With assistance from Tate Fonville and Paul Savas, two of Liberty’s first engineering Ph.D. students enrolled since the school launched master’s and doctoral programs last spring, the team developed a shock-wave-mitigating helmet that Horstemeyer said, “better protects the brain from concussions and encephalitis, which have ended the careers of many professional football players, resulting in life-altering consequences and, in some cases, death.”

The winners were announced Tuesday, Feb. 2, on the NFL Network, as part of Super Bowl LV Week in Tampa, Fla., with $150,000 in awards and research grants on the line. The Liberty team’s entry in the Innovations to Advance Player Health and Safety category of the competition was named the runner-up prize winner and awarded $25,000, which Horstemeyer said would be used to further develop the project in preparation for the NFL Helmet Challenge this summer.

The other three finalists were start-up businesses based in Houston (Go2 Devices/PEEP Performance, LLC), Massachusetts (Nix, Inc.), and New York (Organic Robotics Corporation, the $50,000 grand prize winner).

Horstemeyer said the same principles used in the football helmet can also be applied in other sports helmets, ranging from baseball and lacrosse to equestrian and hockey.

“When we put our idea into hockey helmets, we were five times better, not two,” he said. “But for the business sense, the next idea is to make equestrian helmets because nobody likes their baseline now.”

The team also plans to submit an updated version of its helmet design by July 14 into the NFL Helmet Challenge, a $1 million competition to stimulate development of a new helmet that outperforms, based on laboratory testing, all models currently available to NFL players.

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