The exact circumstances surrounding the critical injury to Templeton High School football player Isaac Lindsey are still unclear, but video of the Sept. 18 game shows that he was involved in at least three helmet-to-helmet blows during the game and was rubbing the back of his head on the sideline before his final play.
No apparent rule violations occurred on the three plays, although any helmet-to-helmet conduct is discouraged in high school football because of increasing concern over concussions.
Lindsey, 16, was upgraded from critical to serious condition Sunday and moved out of the intensive care unit at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, where he is recovering from emergency surgery for a traumatic brain injury and a week in a medically induced coma. He is expected to undergo months of rehabilitation.
The Tribune’s review of San Luis Obispo High School’s video of the game shows that Lindsey sustained the last of three helmet-to-helmet hits as he carried the ball on an 8-yard run at the end of the third quarter. After that play, he sat out the next two plays before returning to the field.
After coming off the field a few plays later, Lindsey can be seen rubbing the back of his head while standing on the sideline before re-entering the game, a detail Templeton Athletic Director Lindsay Campana said she was not aware of until The Tribune informed her on Monday.
On his first play back on the field at the start of the fourth quarter, Lindsey blocked a Tigers defender on a Templeton running play and no helmet contact occurred, as both the SLO High and Templeton football coaches told The Tribune the day after the game. Immediately after the two players made contact, Lindsey grabbed his head, first with one hand, then with two, before jogging off to the sideline and collapsing.
Campana said Monday that the school has been investigating the game footage and Templeton High’s response that night to determine if the school and coaching staff could have acted differently.
“A week later, we have not found anything that we could have done,” Campana said in a telephone interview Monday.
Campana said Monday that she had not watched the entire game on video, only “parts and pieces” of it. “We don’t know everything yet. We’re still holding meetings.”
“The hit where he comes out of the game doesn’t appear to be something to cause trauma,” Campana said. “It could have been a lot of things.”
Two of the three helmet-to-helmet hits sustained by Lindsey occurred in the first quarter, the San Luis Obispo High video shows. At another point in the first half, Lindsey got tied up with a Tigers defender and it appears that contact from behind from his own player knocked his helmet off his head.
Per high school rules, Lindsey exited the game on the next play. When the second half began, Lindsey can be seen adjusting his helmet during and after multiple plays throughout the final three quarters.
A closer look at rules governing football
None of the hits involving Lindsey were called as penalties by referees. The Tribune described the plays to a football rules interpreter with the California Interscholastic Federation, who said the plays as described were not illegal. The CIF official declined to go on the record without being able to review the video.
The National Federation of State High School Associations Football Rules Book defines illegal helmet contact as the “act of initiating contact with the helmet against an opponent” and “targeting” or the “act of taking aim and initiating contact to an opponent above the shoulders with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulders.”
In an effort by the state to reduce concussions and other head related injuries in the sport, California Gov. Jerry Brown in July 2014 signed a new law that further restricted the length and frequency of full-contact football practices at high school and middle-school levels. The law prohibits full-contact practices in the offseason and limits contact practices during the week to twice a week.
Other states have enacted similar laws amid growing evidence that multiple hits, illegal or not, can have cause adverse short-term and long-term effects on football players.
According to Campana, after Lindsey’s helmet was knocked off, it was readjusted by someone on the Templeton coaching staff.
“(Isaac) did not say anything to the coaches about not feeling physically well in the game,” Campana said.
Campana added that to her knowledge, Lindsey had no previous concussions or health issues before the game. Templeton head coach Dan Loney echoed those sentiments when asked in the past week.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, Isaac’s mother Jenny Lindsey credited the swift actions of Templeton athletic trainer Shelby LaMendola on the sideline for saving her son’s life.
In addition, she wrote, “We believe that Isaac simply played through what he thought was a mere headache or minor injury. There were no signs or indicators to anyone that this was as serious as it turned out to be.”
LaMendola declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding Lindsey’s injury or the weeks leading up to the game. Her employer, San Luis Sports Therapy, declined comment as well, citing student and health privacy limitations.
In a statement released to The Tribune, company president Kelly Sanders said, “We are grateful for the coordinated efforts of the many providers involved in Isaac's care” and offer “our most heartfelt wishes for Isaac's full recovery.”
Safety protocol at Templeton High
California law mandates that all CIF member schools obtain an information sheet discussing warning signs and symptoms of a concussion to be signed and returned by the athlete and the athlete's parent or guardian before the athlete starts practice or competition each year.
Campana said Templeton has followed all laws pertaining to student-athlete safety.
“My coaches are very interested in keeping up with latest safety procedures,” Campana said.
Templeton team doctors put on a clinic to review concussion safety before each prep football season, Campana said. This year that was held a week before the game against San Luis Obispo. She added that the players are tested on concussion safety and have their helmets fitted on a regular basis.
Since Lindsey’s injury, Campana said the Templeton staff has reiterated to the players the importance of letting coaches know if they are not feeling well.
“We try to put in perspective that it’s a game. It’s not worth it,” Campana said. “Come out of game or come out of practice if something is wrong.”
“Coaches are constantly talking about saying something if you see a teammate that might be showing symptoms of a concussion.”