“I hate to say it,” former lineman Brandon Eyring says, “but it felt swept under the rug.”
The words — the bible, the emails, all of them — led to Frostburg State's football field.
The (deadly) Drill
Blood oozed from Derek’s forehead during The Drill two days before his collapse.
“We all felt this kind of thing was coming,” Mr. Eyring says. “Obviously, we didn’t know this was going to kill him. But he had something going on. That was the big thing.”
The first day of full-contact drills during fall camp at Frostburg State in August 2011 lasted four hours, the lawsuit said. No collisions compared to those generated by the outside zone drill in which fullbacks pummeled each other. Each time, Derek was the first to go.
One fullback pretended to be a linebacker and stood defenseless. The other fullback had to hit him at full speed as hard as possible after the quarterback handed off to the running back. The make-believe linebacker couldn’t move or brace himself. He had to absorb the shot or face the wrath of Mr. Schumacher, the running backs coach.
In theory, this simulated a fullback blocking a linebacker. But players didn’t see much connection to any realistic game situation because linebackers don’t stand unmoving and defenseless.
“It was stupid,” former running back and fullback Matt Buchanan said. “That’s how everybody who was playing fullback got hurt and people that transferred over to fullback quit. They’re like, ‘Yeah, I’m not doing that.’”
Mr. Buchanan went along with The Drill. Playing time meant keeping your mouth shut at a university where the 2011 team’s policies described injury as a “rare event” and insisted “great champions can distinguish between pain and injury.” To players, the message was clear: If you’re hurt, you’re not a champion. Injured players were labeled “gripers,” the lawsuit says, and detailed to clean the field when practice ended.
“If Derek hadn’t died,” former lineman Kiven Williams writes in an email, “I’m pretty sure someone else would have died or have been severely hurt from the training staff not correctly doing their job.”
The Drill became known among players as a concussion factory, the lawsuit says. In 2010, for instance, Derek smacked into Mr. Buchanan during one repetition. Mr. Buchanan was told he kept playing. His doesn’t remember that. When they transitioned to team drills, Buchanan couldn’t recall basic plays. No coach or trainer pulled him. Instead, Derek suggested he may have a concussion. Mr. Buchanan missed the rest of the season with a concussion. When he returned, he refused to play fullback.
Eight of the 11 players listed as running backs or fullbacks on the 2011 roster with eligibility remaining weren’t on the 2012 roster.
Another former fullback, Tilmon Parker, sustained three concussions in two seasons at Frostburg State before he was advised not to play as a senior. Until a couple of years ago, he didn’t consider himself injured if he could walk. No one forced him to stay on the field.
“In my case, I didn’t say anything about my first couple concussions because I didn’t know how serious concussions were,” Mr. Parker writes in an email. “I think a lot of us players and coaches included were brought up in football to look at concussions as an injury you could easily play through.”