As a Pop Warner quarterback back in 2002 with the Palo Alto Knights, it quickly became evident Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams was destined for great things on the gridiron.
At least that’s the case in the eyes of Mike Piha, his coach at the time.
“I’m not surprised at all,” he said, when asked if he foresaw Adams’ ascent into the NFL. “I saw that in him when he was 10 years old. He was a special, phenomenal athlete — and he’s a great kid, too.”
Fifteen years later, Adams returns to his old stomping grounds at Palo Alto High to host his 2nd annual Youth Football Camp. Saturday’s event is sponsored by Gatorade, Nike, Pepsi, the NFL Players Association and a couple of mobile apps.
That’s where Piha comes in as CEO of HitCheck, which can be downloaded on iTunes or Google Play. It’s a recently launched mobile app that acts as a screening tool for possible concussions.
“At the youth level, because there is not a doctor or a trainer on the sideline, most people just ask questions,” said Piha, a dad and youth football coach for more than 30 years. “What day is it? How many fingers am I holding up?”
“I love it,” Adams said of HitCheck. “I think it’s great, especially with me being someone where it directly influences me. It’s a mobile app that lets you screen for signs of a concussion in less than 10 minutes. You can do it straight from your phone, too. It’s a series of videogame-like tests and it will measure different brain functions that are affected when you actually have a concussion. Some things like balance, memory, reaction time. I think color recognition was one of them, coordination, stuff like that.
“With it being really something that is quicker than some of the baseline things that the NFL does, I think it’s something that can blow up and be something that the league uses.”
About four years ago, after Piha retired from coaching and sold his business in Palo Alto, he began to try and understand the reason for a decline in enrollment at youth and high school levels in football.
“Through some of the research and talking to others, a lot of it was based on parents being concerned of injuries,” he said. “And head injuries seemed to be the leading concern for most parents to allow their kids to participate in a contact sport like football.”
With the help of HitCheck executive chairman Rod Beckstrom and a team of tech and medical experts, the mobile app was launched this past December.
A baseline test of cognitive measurements from a healthy brain, which takes 7-10 minutes, is stored on The Cloud.
Then, if there’s an incident at practice or a game, the athlete retakes the test.
“And if the comparison is off and doesn’t match up, then most likely something is not right and the athlete would go to an M.D. as soon as possible,” said Piha, pointing out that the Palo Alto Knights employed the mobile app last year and the kids enjoyed the game-like tests.
“It’s not just for football,” he added. “Football obviously has all the media attention and it’s where all the activity is happening, but we’ve got the app being used in hockey, soccer, lacrosse, boxing. … The No. 1 cause of concussions is falling off a bicycle.”
To raise awareness, the $25 registration fee for Saturday’s camp is waived to all participants who registered with the promo code “HitCheck” for the event — which is sold out — and downloaded the app to show proof at check-in with a smartphone or tablet.
“Davante wants to give something back to the youth in Palo Alto and East Palo Alto,” Piha said. “So it just kind of fit in really nice to have us be a part of it, because what we’re trying to do is to provide a safer environment for kids and it helps to eliminate the fear for parents.”
For Adams, this camp is a platform to impact youth in his community.
“That’s the biggest thing for me, it’s really why I do it,” said Adams, who grew up in East Palo Alto. “Just to give those kids a sense that there’s someone here that cares about us, someone that’s been in our shoes. These kids that are going to be coming to the camp, when I was their age, I didn’t have anyone that had a camp in my neighborhood, no one had made it out of my area.
“So when I was in that position that I could do so, it was a no-brainer to go ahead to want to have the kids come and show up and meet me, and kind of hear some words from someone who’s been though the same things that they have — and not even that long ago.”
The 24-year-old Adams is coming off his best season in the NFL, with 75 catches for 997 yards and 12 touchdowns.
A second-round pick out of Fresno State, this is a contract year for Adams, who will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.
The Packers kick off their 2017 campaign on Sept. 10.
“I’m fired up about it,” Adams said. “I had a good season and I’m definitely ready to build off of that. There’s a lot of things I still gotta prove. It’s a crucial year for me coming up, too. It’s going to be interesting and it’s going to be fun.”
And while Piha recognized the potential at an early stage, scholarship offers for the 6-foot-1, 215-pound wide receiver didn’t exactly materialize out of thin air.
It didn’t matter that he led Paly with 63 catches for 1,094 yards and 11 touchdowns during an undefeated season that culminated with a state championship.
“That’s definitely my favorite memory,” said Adams, who caught a touchdown in the 15-13 upset of Centennial to cap a perfect 14-0 campaign. “Winning a state championship is something that in high school is tough to come by. It’s tough to beat that.”
Fresno State appeared late in the picture, which is why Adams has the following piece to advice to share with prospective recruits.
“If I could tell them anything, it’s make sure that they try and get their name out there as much as possible early,” Adams said. “It doesn’t have to be a big school, just go to the right fit for you.”
This is the type of wisdom that maybe the next NFL player out of East Palo Alto will learn Saturday from someone who knows what it takes.
“The kids are going to have the opportunity to be competing for different prizes,” said Adams, who through last year’s feedback geared the camp toward 7-on-7 instruction, with multiple groups ages 12 to 18. “It will be really fun.”
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