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Atavus Football Blog

[Orlando Sentinel] Washington, Ohio State teach rugby tackling to bolster player safety

August 30, 2015 - Growing up in West Texas, Rex Norris Jr., knew nothing about rugby football. The only football Norris understood was the type his father taught for most of his life as an assistant coach in the college and NFL ranks. But a chance meeting in 1987 would change all of that. While working in the Arizona State football program, Norris developed a passion for rugby.

"A guy came up to me and said, 'Hey, do you want to play rugby?' and I turned around and said, 'Sure, what is it?'" Norris recalled. "I had no idea."

From that moment on, rugby would find its way into Norris' future.

Concerns over safety

One of the biggest issues facing college football is player safety.

In a 2014 study by Harvard and Boston universities, researchers found there were six suspected concussions and 21 "dings" for every diagnosed concussion in college football. Those numbers were generated after studying 730 Division I college players.

There is little doubt concerns about concussions and head trauma-related injuries has grown immensely during the past few of years. The ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC are issuing independent medical observers at games this season. They will watch games from the press box and have the ability to stop play and remove a player suspected of suffering a serious injury.

Another solution to concussion issues could be found in one of the most unlikely places.

Rugby football has been around for centuries and, while there are multiple similarities with the modern game of football — 13-to-15 players battle for ball in the forms of 'scrums' — rugby's techniques have only recently found their way to mainstream football.

Waisale Serevi is considered one of the greatest Fijian footballers of all time and it was through a chance friendship with Pete Carroll, head coach of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, that some of those rugby-style tackling techniques were introduced to the team in 2011.

Serevi went on to become a co-founder of ATAVUS, a Seattle-based company that works with football programs across the country to help teach a safer, more effective way of tackling based on the principles of rugby.

There are 1.3 million people in the United States playing rugby, according to ATAVUS. Many of those started as part of a club sport, while others played on teams in high school and college. The popularity of the sport is rising, so much so that rugby will be a part of the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.

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Topics: University of Washington, Atavus, Coverage, NFL, Ohio State University, Rex Norris, Rugby