A serious injury as a fourth-grader eventually has blossomed into a brilliant invention for Dusty Swanson, a junior lineman at Wagoner (Okla.)
Swanson was playing two-hand touch following a full Little League practice when he was horse-collar tackled, fell and broke both bones in his left arm. He was unable to play until the final two games of the season.
A horse collar tackle results when a defender brings a ballcarrier down backwards by grabbing him inside the back of his shoulder pads. This results in possibly trapping his legs under him and breaking them as well as tearing the ACL and MCL ligaments in his knees.
This type of tackle was banned by the NFL in 2005, by the NCAA in 2008 and by the National Federation of State High School Associations in 2009. The NFL also hands out a severe fine for even attempting this type of tackle. Still, it goes on at various levels, with teams readily accepting a 15-yard penalty.
Even though Swanson has not been a ballcarrier, he has invented the X Collar, which aims to help prevent these serious injuries to anyone who is about to be tackled. It consists of a base that screws to the back of the shoulder pads and drapes over the neck of the jersey. Then a protective pad is connected to the base by Velcro to prevent defenders from getting in to the horse collar part of the shoulder pads and releasing when pulled backwards.
Swanson told MaxPreps hopefully, "It could become as popular as Sticky Gloves and Cowboy Collar when they first came out."
The journey started with a ninth-grade science fair project. As a seventh- and eighth-grader, his projects centered around mouthpieces, but as a freshman he decided to work on something that had been formulating in his mind ever since that fourth-grade injury.
"The first big thing was to get it legalized," Swanson pointed out. "Waiting on it has been kind of hectic. I was starting to freak out over it."
A prototype and letter to the National Federation received a rejection, but an appeal was offered. So last summer Dusty and his father, Kevin, journeyed to Indianapolis to face an equipment subcommittee consisting of 15 representatives from 15 different states and a medical doctor. They were given 30 minutes to make their presentation.
Time passed painfully until Jan. 27, 2011, when a letter verified that the invention was eligible for use in all 50 states. NFHS spokesman Bob Colgate stressed that the Federation does not endorse products, but it deemed the new device did not violate any rules.
"We were actually in tears," Kevin Swanson related. "We didn't know what to think. It was kind of that we had hit the jackpot. We didn't realize how far we really were."
Dusty noted, "The next big step was to find someone to manufacture it."
Kevin and Dusty have gone to several national trade shows and also received major exposure from a July commercial made at Wagoner by former NFL star Roy Williams.
Playing for the Dallas Cowboys, Williams developed a controversial reputation by injuring opponents with horse collar tackles in 2004. Finally, in 2005, the NFL banned the maneuver and some named the new rule after him. The Swansons reached out to Williams and he agreed to do a national commercial boosting the X Collar.
Kevin recalled Williams telling him, "One year I got praised for it and the next year I was a dirty player."
Thus far Austin Athletics of Shawnee, Okla., has been the only company to turn out the X Collar. A couple hundred have been given out at trade shows. More companies are contacting the family, which still is waiting for its official patent notification. The X Collar sells for $29.99.
Dusty revealed that "a bunch of Little Leaguers are wearing it. In (his) high school three or four wear it. The ones that wear it, like it. They say it doesn't bug them."
When Dusty brought the X Collar to his coach, Dale Condict, he told the teenager "I'll market it to young kids and especially to moms. It (safety) is such a national topic. If it prevents a few injuries a year, it definitely is worth it. When kids see it (being worn), that may prevent them from grabbing it. I'm not requiring any of my players to wear it, but not discouraging it."
The 2012 football season at Wagoner should be exciting for other reasons, too.
Dusty, a 5-foot-11, 230-pound junior, will be starting at offensive guard or tackle and playing some defensive tackle. The Bulldogs are defending Class 4A champions and return a good nucleus. They are ranked No. 14 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 Preseason Small Schools Football Rankings
Dusty carries a superb 4.4 GPA and is among the top 5 in his class. He isn't sure what he wants to study in college, but he does admit if the X Collar is successful he undoubtedly will be majoring in business. His future looks very bright, indeed.