KARL HOLMES JR., 22, wide receiver with Arizona State, 2011-12, and Grand Valley State, 2015, has retired from football because of multiple concussions, persistent post-concussion symptoms, and fear of contracting CTE. “The doctor said I was at risk of developing a brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy.” It was all just part of the game, or so Holmes thought, until he started developing severe headaches after returning home to Pasadena for summer break in May. Then came the memory loss and it was obvious something was really wrong. There was the shot he took during a hitting drill just before his senior year at Muir HS (CA). There was the time he got rocked during an Arizona State practice by his then-teammate Vontaze Burfict, now in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals. There was the car accident. And then there was the last one, which came this past spring at Grand Valley State. Holmes doesn’t remember it at all. “I noticed for a certain period of time that I remembered people asking me to do things, but at the time I just couldn’t remember what they asked. I would go back three or four days later and sit back like, ‘He really did ask me that.’ I told my mom that I thought I was starting to forget things.” Headaches, some lasting as long as four days, eventually sent Holmes to the emergency room. That’s when the process of having advance brain tests began. Football was always his beacon of hope. His father, Karl Holmes Sr., is on death row for his role in the infamous 1993 Halloween murders of three young Pasadena boys in a gang retaliation shooting. Holmes isn’t bitter his career is over, several years short of what he had hoped. He holds no grudges against the sport and wants to continue to be a part of it by coaching after he finishes college. “Football just gave me a vision to see something I probably wouldn’t have seen. I’ve met a lot of people. I’ve networked. I’ve been a lot of places because of football. Football has allowed me to go to college. It was a way of repaying my family. Football has taught to me to be humble at all times because any time could be your last snap. I had no idea, no clue to even think that my last snap would be coming any time soon. Unfortunately, I’m not able to keep playing, but I want to go on and coach. I want to give something back to the game. Football is the greatest sport on the planet.”–“Concussions ended Karl Holmes Jr.’s football career at 22″, PasadenaStarNews.com 8/15/15, Aram Tolegian.
DEVAUN SWAFFORD, 21, junior walk-on defensive back with Tennessee, made a tackle in the Gator Bowl on 1/2/15 and thought he was paralyzed. “I went to tackle a guy on an out route, and I hit him, and my neck just snapped down, and my body locked up for probably five or 10 seconds,” Swafford said. “It kind of scared me. I thought I was paralyzed for a split second, but then I hopped up and went on with it. After the game I remember my neck being stiff, but I was more concerned about my head because I had a concussion.” Over time his neck healed, but in 2015 spring practice, “I took on a block like normal, like I always do, and I remember feeling this sharp pain in my neck for a split second. I kept playing, and I finished practice and went on with it. But then I got home and started playing my X-Box, and my arm started falling asleep, and I was like, ‘Dang, what’s that?’ But I still didn’t think too much of it. But then I went to look at my phone, and every time I looked down, I started feeling a tingling sensation that you get when your arm falls asleep. It was all the way down my left arm.” Swafford continued to practice and didn’t say anything to Tennessee’s training staff. The third warning sign came the following week, though. And that one couldn’t be ignored. “I started feeling that same thing down in my spine, down to the middle of the back.” Two MRIs confirmed a spinal cord contusion, a bruise on the spinal cord that could result in permanent paralysis if Swafford was hit with a certain force the wrong way. “Over the course of the next month I started doing some thinking — some real-life thinking, thinking about my future family and all types of stuff like that, and I started thinking about not playing anymore. I got insight from my parents, the rest of my family, my friends, my girlfriend, and they all told me they’d support my decision, so I decided not to play. I just couldn’t take the risk of having an injury like being paralyzed or something. That’s serious stuff…They never mentioned dying or anything like that, but they did mention permanent paralysis, and that gets your attention.”–“Swafford ‘always a Vol For Life'”, Tennessee.247sports.com 7/23/15, Wes Rucker.
CHRIS HUHN, 20, redshirt sophomore offensive lineman with Marshall, has retired because of 4 or 5 documented concussions he’s sustained. “Due to concerns about my recent concussions I have decided not to play football anymore. My mental health and my future are too important to risk in my opinion. I will still go to school here at Marshall University and help out with the team any way I can. Thank you to Marshall University and everyone who has helped me get this far. It’s been a great ride!!”–“Chris Huhn decides his playing days are over”, CharlestonDailyMail.com 3/27/15, Derek Redd. (From a post by Chris Huhn on his Twitter feed on 3/27/15.)
JACK MILLER, senior center with Michigan, 2012-14, retired from college football in March 2015 because of the threat of long-term mental health issues caused by concussions. “I know I’ve had a few and it’s nice walking away before things could’ve gotten worse,” Miller told ESPN. “And yes, multiple schools have reached out. But I’m ready to walk away from it. My health and happiness is more important than a game.” Miller said he’d suffered one concussion in high school and “probably” another two or three at Michigan, though he added–in echoes of Clint Trickett’s recent retirement–he’d only reported one to the Wolverines’ trainers. He started all 12 Michigan games in 2014, earning the Hugh R. Rader Memorial Award as the team’s best offensive lineman. But given Miller’s business plans outside of football and his first-hand experience of the concussion issue–not only his own, but the firestorm surrounding Michigan’s handling of quarterback Shane Morris’s head injury vs. Minnesota in September 2014–it’s a decision college football can expect more players to make.–CBSSports.com 3/25/15, Jerry Hinnen.
PATTON ROBINETTE, junior quarterback with Vanderbilt, 2013-14, announced on 3/27/15 that he’s ending his playing career due to a history of injuries, including a concussion that caused him to miss 6 games of the 2014 season. Robinette started playing organized football in the sixth grade. As a high school quarterback, he guided powerful Maryville High School (TN) to consecutive state titles and a 29-1 overall record. He was the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2011. “This has been a very difficult decision to make. This team means the world to me and I love playing football more than anything. It’s been tough coming to a decision that is right for my family and I, and protects my health and future.” The 2013 SEC Academic Honor Roll student plans to enter medical school at Vanderbilt and specialize in orthopedics.–“Patton Robinette’s playing career comes to an end”, VUcommodores.com 3/27/15.
CLINT TRICKETT, 24, senior quarterback with Florida State & West Virginia, 2010-14, retired from football on 12/26/14 because of concussions. He had endured 5 concussions over the previous 14 months and suggested he hadn’t told the medical staff about some of them at the time they happened. “That was on me. If they would have known, they probably would have been more cautious about it, but I was trying to push through it.” Trickett was not medically cleared to play his final college game in the Liberty Bowl. “It would be dangerous for me to be out there.” He’s the son of Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett.—“West Virginia QB Trickett retires from concussions”, XFINITY from AP 12/26/14.
DAVID ASH, 22, quarterback with Texas, 2013-14, suffered a concussion in the 2014 season opener versus North Texas, in which he took several hard hits, but finished the game before feeling the effects afterward. Ash missed 10 games last season due to a concussion in a game at BYU, and received a medical redshirt. Coach Charlie Strong says Ash will be out indefinitely and is worried about the quarterback’s future.—Chicago Tribune 8/30/14. CBSsports.com 9/8/14, Tom Fornelli.
9/22/14 Update: After being told by team doctors that if he were their son they wouldn’t let him play, Ash retired from football on 9/22/14. He experienced headaches for 7 or 8 days after the North Texas game concussion. He has not disclosed how many concussions he’s had, but has not had memory loss. “At the core of my heart of hearts, I knew I shouldn’t be playing. It’s been hard, I’ve met my quota for crying for the next ten years. I’m not a victim, I’m a victor.”—“David Ash: ‘Awesome days ahead’”, ESPN.com 9/22/14, Max Olson.