football players
Pac-Five Head Coach Kip Botelho (in background) watching drills during a recent practice.

As National Concussion Awareness Day approaches, the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Education (COE) HuTT®808 program is reaching more high school students.

football helmet

Launched in 2019, HuTT®808 is a partnership between the COE and the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UMass Lowell) to reduce head impact exposure in Hawaiʻi high school football players and to enhance community awareness and environment for head safety.

The program is working with 220 student-athletes at four school programs: St. Louis School, PAC-5, Kalani High School and Roosevelt High School.

“The uniqueness of the HuTT®808 program is the impact it is having on high school football players,” said COE Dean Nathan Murata who serves as co-director. “Previous related studies involved individual high school or college football players; whereas, this program encompasses the entire football team.”

In an interview, Scott Melemai, Kalani High School football head coach, talks about how HuTT®808 is an excellent program. He cites the protocol of the drills as well as the monitoring system of the helmets as amazing and beneficial.

football players training

“At Kalani, we are going to keep following the program because it is working,” Melemai said. “We have 70–80% of our players who have never really played football before, so they don’t have the bad habits. All youth and club sports should implement this.”

Funded by The Gary O. Galiher (GOG) Foundation, the HuTT®808 program emphasizes proper tackling technique, using closely supervised drills in which players participate without their helmets and shoulder pads. This reinforces the behavior of tackling without initiating contact to the head and with the goal of learning to execute proper technique.

“The program works in close collaboration with the COE Hawaiʻi Concussion Awareness Program (HCAMP),” Murata added, “And the GOG Foundation has been a major supporter and key sponsor, allowing UH Mānoa to conduct cutting-edge research in the State of Hawaiʻi in the area of traumatic brain injury and concussions in high school football players.”

football players training

Herb Lloyd, HuTT808 community panel chair, shared, “I think the impact of the research will be positive. Over the past decade, participation in football has been going down, but this research will bring the opportunity to understand what concussions are all about, not only in football, but in all sports.”

Erik E. Swartz, professor and chair of the Department of Physical Therapy and Kinesiology at UMass Lowell, is co-director of HuTT®808, which he explained is an extension of his prior research at the University of New Hampshire.

“The research is based on a concept of training football players how to tackle and block without using their heads by incorporating helmetless tackling training,” said Swartz. “Players are more likely to try to keep their head out of contact, and this learned behavior then carries over to playing football with a helmet and shoulder pads in place during practices and games.”

As for the future of the HuTT®808 program, Swartz says there is still important research to be conducted.

football players training

“By continuing this research, we will learn how to adjust the program according to the age or experience level of the players. We will better understand how this program should be designed from the very lowest youth levels to the elite levels of college and the pros for the maximal skill development and most effective outcome of decreasing head impacts during play.”

This research is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

About the GOG Foundation

Set up by its founder, Attorney Gary O. Galiher, the GOG Foundation supports projects designed to improve Hawaiʻi’s social, economic, and cultural well-being. One of the Foundation’s specific purposes is to bring awareness about the devastating effects of head injuries sustained in contact sports and how these could be prevented.

Before Galiher’s untimely death in 2016, he had an outstanding legal career in Hawaiʻi as a committed and passionate advocate of vulnerable clients. His foundation sponsored an annual Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) conference in Honolulu where leaders from across the country in the fields of neurology and sports medicine presented the latest information on TBI and discussed strategies for making sports safer. The HuTT®808 project is the result of conversations began during Galiher’s last conference.