Smart helmet technology makes its way into Illinois State-Southern Illinois rivalry

SIU tight end Tyce Daniel is one of 24 Salukis wearing the new Riddell Axiom helmet. (Photo by

By Dan Verdun

This past January, Riddell — the world’s leading football helmet manufacturer — announced its latest headgear design “for comfort and safety”. This fall, two Illinois FCS programs are putting it to use on the field.

Come Saturday night when Southern Illinois and Illinois State play their Missouri Valley Football Conference game at Hancock Stadium in Normal, players from each team will be wearing the newly designed “Axiom” helmet from the Des Plaines-based manufacturer.

“We have 24 of them in both maroon and white, our colors,” SIU director of equipment Matt Orbany told Prairie State Pigskin.

Orbany, in his first year with the Salukis, spent time as assistant director of equipment at the University of Wyoming in recent seasons. Wyoming is a testing school for Riddell.

Illinois State has three players wearing the Axiom, according to Nick Watson, director of equipment operations for the Redbirds.

What is Axiom?

Riddell’s official website states, “The new helmet system is the result of Riddell’s commitment to improving athlete protection and performance – combining insights from millions of data points collected with Riddell’s smart helmet technology.

“Feedback from players, coaches and equipment managers has helped create a comfortable and personalized helmet designed to improve impact response and reduce Head Impact Exposure (HIE). Axiom includes a new fitting system, redesigned helmet shell platform with a new energy management system, reimagined frontal protection and integrated smart helmet technology.”

Axiom (Photo by

Each helmet uses a scanning app to capture a three-dimensional image of an athlete’s head.

“The method for fitting the Axiom is very easy using the scanning app from Riddell initially and then only having to make minor adjustments once the helmets arrive,” Watson said.

“Our proprietary fitting algorithm analyzes the 3D images and generates an individualized combination of energy managing interior liner pads with unique thicknesses, shapes, and contours,” Riddell states. “These liner pads work together to create a personalized interior fit and protection system. Your individualized build configuration is calculated, stored, linked, and managed within Riddell’s internal database.”

Player safety

So how exactly is that data used? Mike Lyznicki, SIU’s athletic trainer for football, sees it as vital to player safety and performance.

“The Axiom is equipped with smart technology that provides real-time data about number of impacts as well as the force of those impacts for each athlete’s helmet,” Lyznicki said in an e-mail. “This data can help me and my staff long-term to gather data on which players and/or positions are most at-risk of a head injury (or MTBI), and short-term to track the impacts that are classified as ‘high-level’ and evaluate those athletes for potential head injury.

“In a profession where I often wish I could watch every player during every play, it is incredibly valuable to have this kind of data tracked in real time.”

Orbany is quick to point out that the helmet doesn’t eliminate concussions.

“Concussions remain part of the game. It’s the nature of the game,” Orbany said. “We get weekly reports from the Riddell tech team that lists players with the most high-intensity hits. It also tells us what part of the helmet is used the most. We share this information with players and coaches. We’re trying to alter the way these guys practice and play and further prevent the percentages of concussions from going in the wrong direction.”

Why isn’t the entire roster being fitted?

If you’re wondering why all players aren’t being fitted for the Axiom, the answer is money. New innovations, particularly technology-based ones, are always pricey.

According to Orbany, the Riddell Speed Flex model — which has been traditionally used in recent years — “books for about $400” while the Axiom “is $950.”

According to the Riddell website, “The team price point for each (Axiom) helmet will be around $750, fully equipped with all hardware.”

Certainly this places more of a strain on athletic budgets, especially for schools playing at the FCS level.

“My answer is always what’s safest for the guys and what we can continue to do to make this game safer for our guys and for young kids out there playing the game,” SIU head coach Nick Hill said during Monday’s media address via Zoom. “I don’t think we should ever be put in a way of worrying about how much they cost. It’s about the head and safety. We’ve got to be able to get our players in those.”

A breakdown of which players are wearing them looks like this at SIU: six defensive linemen, four defensive backs, four quarterbacks, three running backs, two tight end/fullbacks, two wide receivers, two linebackers, and one offensive lineman, according to Lyznicki.

“Student-athletes were selected with certain criteria, some that go hand-in-hand, including history of head injuries, position, snap count, frequency of contact that could result in head injury,” Lyznicki said.

Illinois State quarterback Zack Annexstad (5) is one of three Redbirds wearing the Axiom this season. (Photo by

At Illinois State, it’s “a quarterback, a safety, and a wide receiver,” according to Watson.

“The Power Ranger helmet

College players are, after all, college students. Being such, many are concerned with their appearance.

“Some of the players complain about the way they look,” Orbany said. “It’s been called the ‘Power Ranger helmet’ by some. I tell players, ‘This is not about the look, it’s about your safety.’ That’s my job.”

Speed Flex (Photo by

Hill said, “They look a little funny, but everybody now is just used to them. The first few weeks at our practices they looked different, but now it’s like when the Speed Flexes came out (in 2014). Everybody was like, ‘look at these new helmets.’ That’s just part of it. You see them on Sundays in the NFL and a lot of quarterbacks and different people wearing them on Saturday (in college games), and there will be more going forward.”

Saluki fullback Jacob Garrett said, “It’s definitely an interesting design, that’s for sure. I enjoy it because I have a better field of view. I can see almost 180 (degrees) in comparison to the other helmets.”

Maybe the fact that Garrett has four touchdowns in his last two games will convince those on the fence.

Illinois State’s Watson said, “All three of those (Redbird) athletes love the helmet.  Their feedback was that it is very comfortable and lighter weight than their previous helmets. All three traded out of Speed Flex helmets. 

“The only real complaint is that not all of previous facemask designs are available for the Axiom due to the removal of the top bar on the facemask, but the two who had to change mask style thought that was a minor inconvenience.”

SIU’s Lyznicki said, “Like a lot of things, the guys care about how the helmet looks and they seem to appreciate the ‘futuristic’ style of this helmet. This new helmet is intended to be worn with a visor due to the design of the facemask to better protect the eyes and face.

“This might not be ideal for all positions though as it can get hot or foggy, especially in the rain. Some of the players prefer to play without a visor, but in this helmet, it could be problematic as it leaves more of their face exposed than a traditional facemask.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: