TERRE HAUTE —
Bryn Schwartz would have preferred the next sports story written about him detail how he helped Indiana State win a football game with a big play in front of his family and friends at Memorial Stadium.
But that’s not possible now, despite his past successes on the gridiron — as well as in baseball and basketball — at Terre Haute South High School.
You see, Schwartz — who served as a back-up defensive back and special-teams player for the Sycamores in the fall of 2011 after redshirting the 2010 season — estimates that he has had six concussions.
That’s right, six.
After the sixth, which occurred in March 2012, Dr. Henry Feuer — who has been a neurosurgical consultant for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts — examined Schwartz’s medical history and recommended that he hang up his cleats.
Schwartz, who recently turned 22, reluctantly agreed.
“One of the things he told me was it’s not really the amount of concussions you get. … It’s more how you recover from them and how quickly they happen apart from each other,” Schwartz explained.
“I talked to my family. Ultimately, it was my decision. Dr. Feuer’s advice was to not risk it. He just wasn’t sure [about future safety] because I didn’t recover very well from those last couple of concussions. He said that it wasn’t really worth it.
“It was very unfortunate, just because it was unexpected. … I’ve accepted my role now and I’m just focusing on school, trying to do the best I can there.”
Schwartz used the word “unexpected” for good reason. Some of his concussions were caused by unusual — some might say freaky — circumstances.
For example, there was the first when he got hit in the head with a stray golf ball at age 9.
The 2010 South graduate said one occurred while he played football and another occurred when he got flipped and landed on his head while playing basketball for the Braves.
After bouncing back from those, Schwartz built his 6-foot physique up to 195 pounds so he could play football for then-coach Trent Miles at ISU.
As mentioned above, he managed to get through one season without incident. But while working out in the weightroom in February 2012, the freakishness returned and he received his fifth concussion (first at ISU).
Let Schwartz describe how it took place.
“I was doing some medicine-ball partner drills and I got hit in the head with the medicine ball,” he recalled. “I was lying flat on the ground, doing hamstring curls with the medicine ball, and my partner didn’t catch it and it hit me in the back of the head.”
For the record, Schwartz said that medicine ball weighed 30 pounds.
If you think that was strange, wait until you hear how Concussion No. 6 knocked out Schwartz one month later in March 2012.
“I came back for spring conditioning on the field [at Memorial Stadium],” he said. “It was my first day back [to athletic activity] from the previous concussion. We were doing some back-pedal drills out here and a football got loose from a different drill and hit me in the back of the head. That was it.”
You can’t make this up, folks.
Needing more time to recover following his sixth concussion, Schwartz — a pre-med major — ended up missing school that semester.
Still part of the team
After heeding Feuer’s advice, Schwartz still wanted to assist Indiana State’s team any way he could. So for the fall of 2012, the ISU athletic department allowed him to remain on scholarship as a student-manager.
“I’m just trying to help the coaches out,” he emphasized. “They have a ton of stuff on their hands. College football coaches do more work and put in more hours than anybody I’ve ever seen. I wanted to do anything to make their chores a little easier.”
Now Schwartz is beginning his second year as student-manager, joining injured past players Keith Dietel and Evan Norris in similar roles this season. New coach Mike Sanford, who first heard about Schwartz’s unique situation in the spring of 2013 when the former player was studying in England for a few months, is glad to have him at practices.
“He’s doing a great job,” Sanford told the Tribune-Star. “He’s a great help.”
“He’s helpful,” echoed longtime ISU athletics equipment manager Bob Elson. “He does a real good job. He’s conscientious, on time and intelligent.”
“I help Bob Elson get workout equipment ready and handed out,” explained Schwartz, who would like to remain a football student-manager through the 2014 season.
He plans to graduate in 2015.
“Most of the stuff I do is on the field and during games, though,” Schwartz continued. “Like last fall, I was up in the pressbox writing down defensive plays as they were being called. I would listen to the call on the headset and I would write it down so when they would go over film later, they would know what play they’re running. … Basically, I just do whatever they ask me to do, which isn’t too much. They don’t ask me to do anything I’m not capable of. All the coaches are really good to me.”
Dealing with concussions
Even though Sanford just met Schwartz in person a few days ago, he’s no stranger to the depressing world of player concussions.
Sanford dealt with them while he was an assistant at Utah State and head coach at UNLV in recent years.
“I think in general that is a huge topic of importance,” he acknowledged. “We’re all very serious about it. We talk about the new NCAA rule on targeting [which calls for the ejection of anyone contacting defenseless players above the shoulders]. We coach safety.
“As a matter of fact, we have a whole tackling drill we work on where we’re coaching the proper way to tackle, not using the head. That’s very important.”
Sanford, 58, admits that he suffered two concussions during his playing days in the 1970s — one in high school at Los Altos, Calif., and one in college at Southern California.
“They were spread out enough that it wasn’t an issue for me at that point, although you never know what’s going to happen down the road,” he pointed out.
“It’s very different now, the treatment of it and how you react to concussions from a medical standpoint and from a training-room standpoint as far as how long they keep people out. It’s completely different than when I was playing high school football. And it’s changed radically during the course of my coaching career.”
Sanford went over his philosophy on handling concussions at Indiana State.
“The first thing is we want to avoid them,” he said. “We want to teach properly and we don’t want to put a guy in a position where he’s going to get one. Now, they are part of the game of football. If one does occur, we basically do whatever the trainers tell us to do as far as the amount of time afterwards that the athlete is to be held out. We just let them completely handle it.”
Schwartz mentioned some of his symptoms after he suffered his most recent concussions.
“Sensitivity to light and noise, maybe feeling a little down sometimes,” he noted. “I mean, I wasn’t depressed at all, just a little down.”
For those wondering, Schwartz insists he’s “totally recovered from all this” now.
“I’m 100-percent fine,” he continued. “I can go out and play any sport. I play basketball all the time [inside the ISU Arena].”
Considering only one of Schwartz’s concussions actually occurred while playing football, he still believes it is a relatively safe sport for children to play with proper supervision and coaching.
“I would never tell anybody not to play football if they like it,” he said. “No way.”