Anthony Bozin, here returning a kickoff during a preseason practice, is exercising caution before returning to the Stevenson lineup after sustaining a concussion.
Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer
It's a football Friday in 2011 and Anthony Bozin has a headache.
His vision is blurry. His face is twitching. He is pacing, and he's not sure why.
"At that point, I wasn't sure where I was," said the star Stevenson running back, who was on the sideline in between offensive possessions during his team's season opener against Lyons. "I was disoriented, kind of dazed."
It's a football Saturday in 1984 and Glen Kozlowski has a headache.
His vision is blurry. He's not sure where he is.
Kozlowski, the former Chicago Bear and current North Chicago football coach, was a wide receiver at Brigham Young University at the time. He was playing in a game against Wyoming and was in a complete fog.
"I had 7 catches but the coaches were yelling at me the entire game because I kept running the wrong routes," Kozlowski said. "Afterwards, I literally couldn't remember playing in the game. To this day, I have no memory of playing that game. The only reason I know what happened is because I've watched the tape.
"I was pretty out of it, but back then, that was something you kept to yourself."
Not so now. It's open season on concussions in 2011.
Dialogue between athletes, trainers, doctors and coaches is highly encouraged. So is caution.
Check that. Dialogue and caution are demanded. In Illinois, specifically, that's the case, thanks to a "Return to Play" policy that was enacted by the Illinois High School Association last spring and signed into state law by Governor Pat Quinn in July.
Back in the day, getting one's bell rung, and playing through it, was viewed by some as a commentary on toughness and commitment to team. Now, concussions are viewed as serious business that warrant time off and thorough examinations by licensed medical doctors or certified athletic trainers to ensure a complete rehabilitation and recovery.
It's 2011 and Bozin was spotted along the sideline during that game against Lyons by his teammate, Kevin Foley. Bozin was looking strange and disoriented. Foley brought over the trainer.
"I was ready to go back into the game," said Bozin, a fast, shifty runner who remembers absorbing a series of big hits and slams to the ground against Lyons. "I wanted to go back in. But they looked me over and said no. They pulled me out for the rest of the game."
Bozin, who started last year for the Patriots as a sophomore and was projected to be their featured back, was forced to miss the next two games as well and was ordered to take it easy at school and at home.
After passing some basic cognitive tests ("I did not do well on the test I took right after I got the concussion," he said.) and a full exam, he has finally been cleared by a doctor to play. But Bozin will likely miss tonight's North Suburban Conference Lake Division tilt against Warren for good measure.
"We're going to give him time to slowly work himself back in," Stevenson coach Bill McNamara said. "Anthony is a great athlete. Every time he touches the ball, he has the ability to put points on the board. Of course, we want him in there. But we would never push a player because we need him or because we have a big game coming up. The health and welfare of our players is at the forefront of what we do."
It's 1984 and Kozlowski was looking strange and disoriented against Wyoming. But he not only finished the game, he was back in action at the next practice.
It was the old, "Rub some dirt on it and get back out there " approach.
"I can think of at least a dozen concussions I had just while I was in the pros," Kozlowski said. "Back then, it was 'I'm tough. It's no big deal.' I'm glad we're changing that and we're changing how we respond to concussions."
The IHSA's "Return to Play" policy states that any athlete who exhibits symptoms of a concussion (loss of consciousness, headache, dizziness, confusion or balance problems, among other signs) must immediately exit the contest and may not return until examined and fully cleared by a certified athletic trainer or medical physician.
The law that Quinn signed in July covers not only high schools but also other lower level entities such as middle schools and youth programs, which the IHSA policy does not cover.
"Before, most schools had policies about concussions but some had latitude as to who they would accept a (clearance) note from," said Kurt Gibson, associate executive director of the IHSA. "Maybe in the past, some schools would take a note from a parent or a chiropractor. Now, it's just a trainer or a physician.
"The medical world has learned so much in recent years about concussions and how serious they are and we'd rather err on the side of caution. By not taking concussions seriously all an athlete is doing is putting himself in serious jeopardy."
And who knows when that jeopardy might rear its ugly head.
Former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson committed suicide in February and it was later determined that he had sustained some brain trauma that likely was linked to the head injuries and concussions he suffered while playing football years before. Some have suggested that the brain trauma could have clouded his judgment and led him to take his life when he otherwise might not have.
Last year, a high school football player from Virginia suffered a concussion while playing in a game. He committed suicide two days later.
His parents donated his brain to research in an effort to determine whether the two events were related.
"I used to think, 'Oh, a concussion, that's nothing,'" said Bozin, who also suffered a minor concussion during summer workouts in June. "But now, after what I've been through, and all the research I've done, I don't think that. I'm upset about missing games and I'm excited about getting back.
"But I don't think I'm wimpy for having to sit out. I have only one brain."