(ST. JOSEPH) In Chris Neff's playing days, concussions weren't a red flag in high school sportsp.
"I'm certain I (had them)," Lafayette's head boys basketball coach said. "I remember taking elbows to the face, had numerous stitches in my eyelids and lips, a broken nose. It's just, in the 80s, they weren't terribly prevalent."
"This is the first time in my coaching career, which is near 20 years now, that I've honestly ever been concerned with concussions."
In the last few years, the revamped focus on head injuries in the National Football League has trickled down to the college, high school, and youth levels of all sports. Now players like Lafayette senior guard Billy Cook benefit from it.
"I remember, growing up, people talking about how concussions aren't even that big of a deal and only football players could get them," he said.
Cook has had five diagnosed concussions: one in the third grade, one in fifth grade, and three in high school. Four came while playing basketball and the other in his lone year of playing soccer. That one occurred in the fall of 2012 before he suffered his latest just months later during basketball season.
"With athletes becoming stronger and faster, it's just kind of a freak thing that I've been on the wrong side of a couple times.
An NFL-funded report by the National Academy of Sciences, Datalys Center, released in October, showed that high school athletes are more likely to suffer concussions than college-aged players. Basketball ranked as the fifth-most dangerous sport for head injuries, with soccer ranked third.
Although most kids won't sustain as many as Cook by their senior year of high school, he's seen first-hand how concussion protocol has changed since his first injury.
"With technology and more education, people are starting to realize that it can happen in any sport."
"You cannot devalue the research and studies that've been done," Neff said. "It's very clear there's a need for the caution."
Cook wore protective headgear throughout his junior seasons of soccer and basketball. He chose to forgo soccer this season and still dons the gear in basketball practice, but has ditched it for game nights. Despite the risk, he says he can't be bothered to worry about getting hurt now or in the future.
"I think that's the biggest way to worry about getting injured again," he said. "You just have to go out there and player your game and if it happens, it happens. You have to deal with it."