UTAH UTES

Cam Rising Will Be Wearing New Technology Helmet In 2022

Aug 30, 2022, 12:00 PM | Updated: Sep 16, 2022, 10:28 am
Utah-QB-Cam-Rising-Light-Helmet-LS2...
Utes quarterback Cameron Rising at practice with the LS2 helmet he will be wearing in the 2022 season. (Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics.)
(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics.)

SALT LAKE CITY –  Cam Rising will be rocking a different helmet in 2022 that features new safety technology that you may have never heard of. LIGHT Helmets is a small, newer company in the game that has derived its product from what has worked in professional car racing and the military.

The particular helmet model Rising will be wearing is the LS2 which earned a five-star ranking (the highest you can get) by Virginia Tech’s independent helmet study. The LS2 helmet ranked eighth overall out of 28 helmets tested in 2022 making it one of the safest and lightest helmets (3.5 lbs.) you can wear.

 

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The backstory of how Rising and the owner of LIGHT Helmets, Nick Esayian came to find each other is a good one, and not typical of simply needing to find a “good” helmet.

How LIGHT Helmets Came To Be

We’ve discussed a lot about how the 2021 Utah football felt like “fate” with all of the twists and turns that involved the number 22. Well, Esayian founding LIGHT Helmets and then finding Utah quarterback Cam Rising isn’t much different. It’s basically another sidebar to an already crazy story.

Esayian loves college football and played at the Division III level before he would go on to find himself immersed in the car racing world as a professional driver- a career he held for 27 years. Eventually Esayian would meet a gentleman by the name of Bill Simpson who owned Simpson Racing and was part of Simpson-Ganassi (SG) which he owned with another famous race mogul in Chip Ganassi.

“They brought a whole myriad of technology from military and aviation to the auto racing world,” Esayian explained of Simpson’s reach through the race world. “Open wheel auto racing had a one in seven fatality rate in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s. So of 21 drivers you would lose three people a year, it was crazy. Bill was the pioneer bringing in mass composites, window nets, race suits, better seats that cradled the body, gloves, shoes- a whole series of products. Bill has now passed away, but Chip’s team won the Indy 500 this year, they started Simpson-Ganassi (SG) and they’ve had players transfer the technology to football. Dwight Freeney, and Jeff Saturday who are both Hall of Famers all the way down to Pop Warner kids were wearing them.”

The problem was despite the fact the new materials offered the same or better protection as a traditional football helmet at half the weight, they didn’t look great and they didn’t fit great. However, Esayian says once athletes tried them out on the football field they didn’t want to go back. This made it a necessity for SG to find someone who could take the company up one more notch.

“I had always crossed paths with Bill because of my auto racing and one of the NASCAR drivers said we should talk because I had played some college football,” Esayian said. “In 2018 I bought the rights to SG and rebranded it LIGHT. The whole thought of this is that the military has spent so much money on protection and technology using the best materials, why aren’t we using this?”

An Uphill Battle

Esayian wasted no time getting to work to improve a product he felt was on the right track. Medical experts from neurologists, physicians, pediatricians and former NFL team doctors were brought in to study LIGHT Helmets. Esayian also brought in military engineers familiar with the materials being used that would understand how best to get the most out of them. Thus, the LS series of helmets were born for LIGHT Helmets.

“Virginia Tech has a safety lab that is independent and rates products,” Esayian said. “They tested our products and our hard-shell helmets got the highest rating of a five star. Of course, we are excited because we are the ‘little guy’ and our seven-man, or flag football gear not only got a five-star rating, but it got a perfect score. Nobody has ever gotten a perfect score before.”

The NFL however, would not be so thrilled with the new product that was proving to be better than what they are currently using. In fact, LIGHT Helmets are currently on their “banned” list despite independent studies showing the helmets are safer and it’s all due to the weight of them.

To prove his point, Esayian taped two pounds of lead to his helmet and resubmitted it to the NFL for testing. Not a thing had been altered as far as safety features, just two added pounds of weight and the score it received would qualify it as a “recommended helmet”.

“There is nobody in the history of athletics that would say adding two pieces of lead to a piece of equipment would make any subsequent difference in terms of impact performance,” Esayian said. “The NFL didn’t really know what to say. We are now championing the cause through the player’s union (NFLPA). That’s a process and in the meantime the industry is starting to realize that lighter weight is the path that autocross, motor racing, and the military has taken. They see the test results of Virginia Tech with our helmets and the acceptance rate is high.”

Getting Rising in the LS2

Obviously, the NFL dragging their feet on LIGHT Helmets’ technology despite prominent independent studies showing it’s value has made it difficult for Esayian to get his foot in the door. That’s where Utah’s Cam Rising comes in.

The story of Esayian connecting with Rising is complex in and of itself. Part of the fateful encounter is due in part to Esayian’s son falling in love with the University of Utah and choosing to go there for school. Having grown up around football, Esayian’s son wanted to go to the Rose Bowl which is perhaps where you could say the ball initially got rolling.

“My oldest son, Jake, was evaluating colleges and we visited the University of Utah and he loved the school,” Esayian said. “He had a great first year there and part of that was going to the Rose Bowl. I took my younger son who is an accomplished football player, he’s 16 and plays for a Cathedral Catholic in California- he’s been wearing one of the LS2s for four years. Great game. 35-35, Cam gets wrapped up around the legs, falls backwards and hits his head on the turf getting knocked out of the game. No helmet can protect against all concussions, but when you see an injury like that you can see where the weight of the helmet can come into play.”

A few weeks later Esayian is in Texas for a football conference, when once again fate pushed him and Rising a little closer together.

“I was at the AFAC show and I had all of my employees,” Esayian said. “Everyone wanted to have a couple of drinks and watch the National Championship Game. We went somewhere off the beaten path so we wouldn’t run into potential customers because it is a big trade show. The Douglas shoulder-pad guys are there, and we are friendly with them, and I have a Utah shirt on. The Douglas guy says something casual to me about Utah and I got irritated and shot back about how if Cam hadn’t been injured with such a heavy helmet contributing to the impact, the Utes probably win the Rose Bowl. The Douglas guy responds, ‘that’s Utah’s equipment manager over there’. So I go over there, introduce myself and we got along right away.”

Naturally, Esayian had to answer to Utah’s equipment manager for why his helmet is on the NFL’s banned list of helmets. However, Esayian noted unlike a lot of conversations he’s had in the past, there was a genuine interest to really look into what the science said. A door had been cracked.

If the stars didn’t feel like they were aligned enough already, Esayian soon after got a call from an old racing friend who happens to be a big Utah fan and knows Rising’s dad well. The door was now fully open.

“I had an old race car friend call me and tell me he knows the quarterback from Utah’s father which led to meeting Cam’s dad,” Esayian said. “We had conversations and that led to conversations with the team. I ended up talking to the Associate Athletic Director about it. I’ve explained our position and why I feel the lighter helmet is better.”

Doing Due Diligence On LIGHT Helmets

Of course, the university wasn’t going to just plop one of their star athletes into a helmet with no questions asked, nor is Rising the type of player to just go into something blindly. Esayian says he spent a good amount of time talking to people from all levels of involvement with the athletic department, equipment right down to Rising and his family. They went over every bit of information and data available in a way Esayian says he hadn’t ever encountered before.

“As far as the university, I had not yet had a helmet placement where we talked to as many people about all of the questions being answered,” Esayian said. “I mean, Athletic Director, Associate Director, two people in the equipment room, Cam’s dad, Cam’s girlfriend. Cam and his girlfriend we actually met to talk about the helmet and the technology and why it was different. We went through all of the data and testing. They watched the videos, read the writings of the physicians that we have involved. That deep-dive that the university took into this was far beyond what anyone else had. It was a good exercise for us because it showed what people’s concerns and preconceptions are.”

Rising tested several helmets through the spring while combing the information on the LIGHT LS2. He, his family, and the university eventually came to the conclusion that going with the “little guy” was the best way to go.

“The thing that was very unique was that the people we talked to were not only concerned about Cam as a player in the program, but they were also very concerned about this being viable technology,” Esayian said. “If it’s not allowed or given a chance it won’t have the ability to impact anyone else. It was refreshing to get to that point. I thought that took courage.”

“When there is a new technology that shows up, because of safety and liability people are nervous about taking chances,” Esayian continued. “Even if it sounds better, even if it’s better in testing, even if a university or physician says it’s better, they are nervous to take that chance. They don’t want to be the person who makes the decision that puts somebody in harm’s way and impacts the team, their job, the game being played or the visibility. When you start talking about a school like Utah and a player like Cam- we see what happened in the Rose Bowl. If you pick a traditional helmet and that happens, nobody thinks anything of it. If the same thing happens wearing our helmet, the helmet gets blamed. It’s a perception and for perceptions to change, courageous people have to take action. In this case it’s an entire series of people that looked at the facts and decided to take action. There is a high level of credibility that comes with that.”

Esayian says he has also been impressed by Rising all on his own describing him as confident without being cocky, a good listener who askes great questions all while toting a good sense of humor. It’s not lost on Esayian that Rising has his life and future to worry about, but is honored there is trust there that LIGHT Helmets will get him where he wants to go.

“He’s concerned about his own safety and career,” Esayian said. “This is big money stuff and he has all of the tools to play at the next level. We have every confidence that he will and it’s important that he protects himself. I think he did a thorough job of making the decision that’s he’s made. Without being overbearing, Cam’s dad was involved in this whole process too.”

Bringing It All Home

To end this story and bring it full-circle, Esayian says his son that is attending Utah is now part of the equipment staff because of his knowledge on handling helmets. A prime example of how several actions can eventually lead the right people toward each other.

“So my son, Jake, is there as a finance major and is now working in the equipment room. When we first took the company over, my sons were some of our first employees putting helmets together. It’s interesting for him being probably the most experienced person working with these helmets in the locker room there. Getting some of the feedback on our equipment has been interesting and really closes the circle between the equipment manager I met in Texas, Cam’s dad coming through a race contact, Cam being involved with the university and going through the evaluation process, and now having someone there who is knowledgeable about the helmets and also a student at the university. He loves it there so it’s just kind of a neat story because it’s probably never happened before.”

 

 

 

 

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