Hrinya blacked out. He woke up with an IV in his arm, lying in a hospital bed. That’s when one of the SU trainers broke the news to him. ‘But physically, I’m still all there. But my brain is weak.’ Neal said when assessing concussions the day of and after the incident, trainers and doctors look in three different areas of the athlete: cognitive (basic skills and thought), semantic (sensitivity to light, headaches, nausea) and effect (responding to questioning, crying, silence). The younger an athlete is when he or she sustains his or her first concussion, the worse it is, Neal said. The young brain is still immature, so repetitive hits to the head cause the athlete to be prone to more concussions. ‘The actual hit is the worst part of all of this,’ Hrinya said. ‘What I felt like after. It’s a crazy pain in your head, confusion; you don’t understand what’s going on in your body or brain. Other than that, the hardest thing for me, physically, is I could still play this game and do it well. It’s not like I tore a ligament in my knee where I can’t run the same. In 2009, the National Football League passed new rules regarding concussions mid-season in order to protect players from returning to play too soon after suffering a concussion. The new rules trickled down to the collegiate and high school levels, skyrocketing the reevaluation of how to deal with concussions. His scholarship would be honored since he suffered a medical injury while playing football. Even through coaching changes, Doug Marrone’s staff made a conscious effort to include Hrinya in practice. He filmed practice for Marrone all of this past season. But regardless, Hrinya’s father, Darrin, was devastated that his son’s career was over, Hrinya said. Hrinya, then a senior in high school, suffered his first concussion at that moment. He went to tackle a player on the opposing team, and the two players’ helmets smashed together. The hit knocked him out. The feeling of delirium, nausea and confusion ensued. ‘I was so upset that I’d never be able to do this again,’ Hrinya said. ‘This was my life and all I do. That’s when I was like, ‘Can’t believe it’s over.” A concussion is the physical response to a blow to the head, said Tim Neal, the assistant director of athletics for sports medicine at Syracuse. A concussion can occur from a hard hit to the head, face or neck, or any type of jarring force where the head gets smacked hard, Neal said. ‘He’s always sitting in the pitch black,’ said Robinson, a senior. ‘I asked him, ‘What are you, a vampire or something?” Hrinya stood seven yards away from his teammate during a practice drill. He sprinted forward, attempting to tackle his teammate. The force knocked both of them out. After that hit, Phillips joined the ranks of Hrinya in career-ending concussions. After Hrinya’s third concussion during his sophomore year of college, his lifestyle started to change. Headaches occurred more frequently. He always wears sunglasses outside because his eyes are sensitive to light. He sits in the dark watching television or playing video games because he gets migraines. In a fog, he remembers the trainers asked, ‘How many fingers am I holding up?’ Derek Hrinya laid on the turf, staring out into space. Colors were off. Everything was distorted, blurred in some way. He was nauseous. Then, started to vomit. He tried to stand up but fell. Neal said the next step is raising the athlete’s heart rate to make sure all symptoms have ceased. Trainers monitor athletes as they exercise. If symptoms return, the athlete takes more time off. If symptoms are clear, the athlete can return to drills, gradually. Then light-contact and, eventually, full-contact practice can occur. -30- Even after Phillips was technically no longer on the SU roster, trainers forced him to come in for regular check-ups with doctors because his migraines persisted. A year passed after concussion No. 3. Hrinya played through his sophomore season at SU. The Orange’s practice turf was cold and hard from the November chill. ‘I felt like I was in a dream world,’ Hrinya said. ‘Like nothing was real. I kept spinning in a circle. The world was shifting.’ Hrinya took the Standardized Assessment of Concussion (SAC) test after his third concussion and said he ‘failed miserably.’ The test is a series of questions and patterns. Hrinya remembers being asked to repeat a group of numbers backward. He was not successful. For Dalton Phillips, a former SU long-snapper/tight end, concussions are all too ‘common.’ ‘Physically, I could still play this game,’ said Hrinya, a communications and rhetorical studies major planning to graduate this May. ‘And do it well.’ ‘My dad was really upset about it. You know, your son goes to a D-I school, you have NFL aspirations,’ Hrinya said. ‘My mom was really upset but at the same time relieved I wasn’t going to play football anymore. But (she) didn’t want it to happen like this.’ Neal attended a collegiate athletics summit on concussions April 9, as the NCAA continuously revises its policy regarding concussions. Neal said Syracuse University boasts a very conservative policy, with no risks, when it comes to concussions. Neal said the NCAA will sponsor concussion education for coaches and athletes starting next season so everyone is aware of the signs and risks of concussions. Hrinya ran out onto the field with his teammates during SU’s final game against Cincinnati in 2007. He looked up at the Carrier Dome stands and glanced up at the crowd. That’s when he realized it was really over. Neal said the most frustrating part for athletes, families and coaches is the waiting. Being diagnosed with a concussion does not give a finite time for when a player can return to play. It’s a case-by-case basis. His football playing days were over, just like so many others in Hrinya’s position. Playing through multiple concussions has developed into a national trend among young athletes. Hrinya’s story just hits closer to Syracuse. eHe s Neal recalled Hrinya’s situation. The history of concussions before even entering college destined Hrinya for trouble from the start. The side effects Published on May 2, 2010 at 12:00 pm ‘After that concussion I was really, really messed up. I was throwing up, I couldn’t function at all. Worst one I ever had. I thought I was going to die.’ Voices sounded like they were 1,000 miles away. The doctors sat Hrinya down, but he could not make out what they were saying. ‘The trainers (at SU) are on it,’ Phillips said. ‘If you have any symptoms, if you had a concussion, they are very cautious of how long they keep you out.’ He explained Hrinya had suffered another concussion. This one was so bad that Hrinya couldn’t play football anymore. He was deemed medically unable to play. This was the end. Facebook Twitter Google+ ‘My concussion came right before the end of the season,’ Phillips said. ‘Tim Neal said, ‘You’re done. I hate to end it like this for you, but don’t want to take any risks.” ‘I didn’t know how to react,’ Hrinya said. ‘I was not expecting that at all. There were so many emotions running through my head that I just zoned out.’ Andrew Robinson, a former SU player and Hrinya’s roommate, flicks on all the lights when he enters the apartment. Hrinya has to go upstairs to be in the dark. ‘But I was the one that got the concussion,’ Hrinya said. ‘Because my head is so screwed up. Hit. Thud. Smack. Multiple concussions have plagued Phillips as well. He lost consciousness and suffered a concussion Nov. 14 during Syracuse’s 10-9 loss to Louisville. Phillips said he barely remembers the hit or much of the day after his concussion. His memory did not return until later that night in the hospital. Hrinya, now a senior at Syracuse, resumed playing for Warwick Valley Central High School. He faced the hard reality that concussions are common in football. But his mother, Elizabeth, wanted him to stop playing immediately. ‘Concussions are serious,’ she told him. ‘Are you crazy?’ Hrinya said he asked his mother back in 2006. ‘I have a full scholarship to play at SU. I’m still going to play football.’ [email protected] Comments The final blow Two years and three concussions later at Syracuse, Hrinya, the former Orange safety, has suffered four major hits that resulted in concussions. Three while on SU’s roster, all during practice. By the fourth concussion, Hrinya was deemed medically inactive to play football.