Staff Photo Buford grad P.K. Sam, now retired after a career in professional football, is working with Guardian Protective Helmet Covers, which helps prevent concussions in football training. The former wide receiver also has battled side effects in recent years for numerous football concussions.
P.K. Sam is only 29 years old. He's still in football shape. Tall and athletic, he looks like he could suit up for an NFL team this afternoon.
That makes what happened to him earlier this year even more odd.
Walking around his Ohio home, the former Buford and Norcross standout suddenly passed out. No warning signs. No feeling bad. He just dropped.
It was a scary incident that sent Sam through a gauntlet of doctors who tested him for everything. They told him his heart was fine, but that years of head trauma from football was the root problem.
"You hear about (head problems after football), but you don't believe it's going to happen to you," Sam said. "Then as you get older, the symptoms start."
Sam, a wide receiver, took his share of those hits on routes across the middle. His first was as a 10-year-old for Norcross' Gwinnett Football League team. His Buford teammate, Rodney Pace, gave him one. Renowned big hitter Sean Taylor, then at Miami, delivered one when Sam was at Florida State. Other big blows followed during a pro career that spanned from 2004-2011 in the NFL, NFL Europe and most recently, the CFL.
On plenty of occasions, Sam took the hits and went right back into the game.
"I was the type of kid who wouldn't tell anyone about it," said Sam, who has three children -- two young sons and a 10-year-old stepdaughter. "Football's a tough-man's sport. You're never supposed to want to come out. I talked them into letting me go back in."
How many concussions were there?
"I know I had way too many," he said.
After his recent scare, Sam took a step toward prevention of head injuries. He began work with Guardian Caps, an Atlanta-based company that also gets support from other former NFL players.
For those who haven't seen one, the Guardian Cap is a protective shell that fits over a football helmet and provides extra cushion for practices. It's similar to the cushioned inside of a helmet, but it's large enough to fit over the top. It isn't worn in games, but it's documented to help in practice sessions. It's sort of like a boxer wearing headgear for sparring.
The cap doesn't exactly look stylish, which makes it a challenging to get a single kid to wear it, but one Duluth player with multiple concussions is wearing a Guardian Cap in practices this season. It's an easier sell to entire teams. Some Gwinnett Football League youth teams are sporting the headgear this season. Wesleyan's entire high school team wears Guardian Caps for practice.
When he was young, Sam probably would have resisted the extra practice protection, too. But looking back, he knows a Guardian Cap would have helped. Now he's doing his best to promote the product to coaches and players (he can give you more info at firstname.lastname@example.org).
"I talked to some eighth-grade kids and they were worried that they wouldn't look cool," Sam said. "That's why it's tough for just one kid to wear one. But to see a whole team wearing it, it is pretty cool. I think it's the next phase of football."
Will Hammock can be reached via email at email@example.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock. For Hammock's blog, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willsworld.