Putting Health Ahead Of Football
The Gannon University football season will end today, but it ended for Alan Lockwood back in April along with his competitive football career.
After a red-shirt freshman season with the Knights in 2010, the former Class D first-team all-state fullback from Randolph suffered a second concussion during his second spring practice in April and said that's it.
Alan Lockwood running for Randolph.
Photo by Roger D. Roselli Jr.
Lockwood pondered his decision over spring break, but stuck with it. When he returned to Gannon to inform his coaches, his position coach saw the tears in his eyes and knew Lockwood hadn't changed his mind.
''He basically patted me on the back for being a very mature person,'' Lockwood recalled. ''I only get one brain. My education is a lot more important than playing football and just realizing that I shouldn't keep playing because if it happens again who knows how bad it could be.''
So after playing competitive football for 12 years since he was in a midget league, Lockwood gave up what he loved the most. He put his health first.
Lockwood already had a healthy and mature outlook about football when he chose to play at Gannon.
''I kind of wanted to play football in college, but at the same time I knew my career was more important than playing football,'' Lockwood said. ''I knew I wasn't going to the league (NFL) or anything, I'm not stupid. So I was looking for a school with a good physical therapy program and Gannon has a good one.''
In his freshman year during the second week of preseason camp in August of 2011, Lockwood suffered his first concussion during an intersquad scrimmage.
''I don't remember exactly what happened, but I know that I got tackled a couple of times and whenever I got tackled I got thrown into the turf and I kept hitting my head,'' he said. ''And we ran the same play about three times in a row.''
He added about the concussion, ''That was my first diagnosed one. I don't know if I had any in high school. I may have, I may not have. But whenever you hit your head you're always getting some form of concussion.''
When he was on the sideline, Lockwood recalled, ''I actually told the trainer when I got that concussion that if I ever get another one I'm done playing. He looked at me and said, 'That's actually a very smart choice of you to do that.'''
Lockwood was out about two or three weeks and when he returned to practice he was placed on the scout team. So at practice he ran the opposition's plays each week and during games he stood on the sidelines wearing only a jersey over his street clothes.
Studying physical therapy was an advantage for Lockwood and also his knowledge about concussions.
''My positional coach said I knew way too much about the human body and how everything works,'' he said. ''I would adjust myself mid-block so that I wouldn't hit my head. I was in good form, but I wouldn't get hurt.''
When spring practice began outside this past spring, it didn't last long for Lockwood. He was involved in a blocking drill and there had been complaints from the coaches that the fullbacks hadn't been physical enough.
''So I said OK, I'm going to turn it on and I'm going to start hitting people again and I got another concussion,'' Lockwood said. ''The worse thing about it was I laid the hit on the kid and I got the concussion.''
And Lockwood knew immediately he had suffered another concussion.
''As soon as I hit him, I just stopped blocking, walked to the sideline, took off my helmet and just sat down,'' Lockwood said. ''I knew I was done. The trainer walked over and said, 'I already know what it is, you don't even have to tell me. Take your time.'''
How did Lockwood know he had a concussion? The first sign was a miserable headache.
''It hurt so bad,'' Lockwood said.
He also felt nauseated, a little bit dizzy and his vision was blurry for a couple of minutes.
''I just started crying,'' Lockwood said. He told the trainer, ''I'm crying because my football career is done.''
The coaching staff respected his decision.
''All the coaching staff knew I was a tough kid and they loved that about me'' Lockwood said, pointing out he continued to practice the previous year despite a pulled hip flexor. ''I would never sit out. If I'm actually sitting out, they know something's wrong.''
Some of his teammates didn't feel the same way.
''I got very negative feedback from the players,'' Lockwood said.
He went home for spring break and pondered his decision and he found more criticism there, for a while.
''I remember my step-dad, he was complaining about me quitting football,'' Lockwood said. ''Then Junior Seau took his life and my step-dad's viewpoint completely flip-flopped.''
It has been speculated that the suicide of Seau, who played linebacker in the NFL for 19 seasons, was due to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is related to concussion-related brain damage. And in 2011, former NFL player Dave Duerson took his own life and he left a text message that he wanted his brain to be used for the research of CTE.
When Lockwood returned to Gannon, he informed the coaching staff he was sticking with his decision to stop playing football.
''Your future is more important than what you're doing right now, that's my whole mentality behind it,'' he said.
So this season when Gannon played, Lockwood was sitting in the stands rooting for the Knights. And how much did he miss football?
''I missed it everyday,'' he said.
From his dorm room, Lockwood could hear the whistles at football practice and his thoughts were, ''I should be out there. Then I think about my schooling, my future and how me getting my degree is a lot more important than playing football.''
And he still has reminders of his concussions.
''I have my good days and my bad days,'' Lockwood said. ''There are days when my head is absolutely killing me.''
And his study habits have changed quite a bit. In high school and in his first year at Gannon he barely studied and still had excellent grades because of his remarkable ability to retain information.
''I study a lot more than I ever have before,'' Lockwood said. ''I can't retain stuff as easily as I did.''
Lockwood's goal is to become a physical therapist and then he'll be able to diagnose and treat individuals with medical problems that limit their abilities to move and perform. That will take quite a few more years of undergraduate and graduate studies to achieve
However, Lockwood can be helpful right now by answering the questions of any athletes concerned about concussions. He's knows because he's been there.