Concussions mark alarming trend for Midshipmen

ANNAPOLIS — Navy junior cornerback Jonathan Wev returned to a starting job last month after sitting out a game because of his concussion in the season opener.

He also knew as he settled in to start against VMI what awaited him if he absorbed another head injury.

It happened in his first game back on a collision near the sideline. And with that, he had a good idea his career was over.

“They told me if I got another one, it’d pretty much be it,” Wev said. “So whenever I came off the field against VMI, I kind of already knew.”

The priority on head injuries was underscored the following Monday, when coach Ken Niumatalolo informed Wev he could no longer play.

Concussions have received more attention in recent years as researchers learn more about the long-term impact of head injuries. In turn, it leads to more scrutiny of how schools and teams handle concussed players.

Niumatalolo often refers to the academy’s concussion protocol, which provides a consistent framework with which to deal with head injuries.

“Ours is actually written down,” said Jeff Fair, Navy’s associate athletic director for sport medicine. “The reason we do that is because then we have something to go back to and it’s in writing and [we can] say, ‘This is the way we do it, and we handle it the same way each time.’”

The Midshipmen have put the protocol to use frequently in recent years. Safety Emmett Merchant and tackle Matt Molloy saw their careers end early in their senior years because of concussions in 2010, as did tackle David Sumrall last year.

Fair said all players take a baseline exam when they first arrive at the academy to measure balance, memory and symptoms. If a player suffers a head injury and his concussion test doesn’t match the baseline test, he is ordered to rest to encourage the brain to heal.

Concussed players are evaluated three or four times over the course of a day, and if they are symptom-free for 24 hours they take the concussion test again. They then go through a cardiovascular workout, are evaluated again, and then can go through a weight workout the next day. If things check out, it is possible a player could practice in a noncontact capacity the following day.

Theoretically, a return is possible in less than a week, which is what safety Tra’ves Bush did last week. Anxious to play in a rivalry game against Air Force a week after sustaining a concussion in a Sept. 29 loss to San Jose State, Bush remained in his room throughout that Monday as he recovered.

He received advice from Wev, who in retrospect said he could have shown more patience with his own injury.

“I just told him to take your time and really be honest with yourself because I feel like I could have been more honest with myself than I was and I was too anxious to get back,” Wev said. “I probably should have waited at least another week.”

After meeting the academy’s protocol, Bush was cleared to play. He has 12 tackles in the Mids’ victory.

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