BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - According to the National Federation of State High School Associations in 25,503 fewer students played football in 2016 than the year before. With those numbers schools are looking at ways to make the game safer.
Biloxi Head Coach Bobby Hall is a Mississippi coaching legend. He's won four state championships and in more than four decades of coaching he's learned safety has to be a top priority.
"You can never be too careful," Hall said.
Part of being careful means having top of the line equipment.
"We just bought two brand new sets of helmets that based on the Virginia Tech research were the safest helmets out there today," Hall said.
Those helmets are meant to prevent injuries that have always been a part of the game and recent studies have put the spotlight on head injuries. An examination of brains of former NFL players found more than 90 percent of them had suffered brain trauma.
Biloxi Senior Noah Griffith had a concussion as a sophomore and learned why it was important to follow the proper safety measures after a head injury.
"I couldn't play for a while, couldn't practice or do anything," Griffith said. "I just had to take time off and just got to take it easy."
Along with upgraded equipment and additional safety measures now in place, Coach Bobby Hall says the game is coached differently with the goal of protecting the head.
"We're teaching tackling totally different than I did when I started 40 years ago, said Hall. "The head is not a part of tackling anymore, it's the shoulder."
As for the national trend of less athletes participating in football, Hall doesn't think brain injury statistics are the reason for the decrease.
"Football is tough, it's a John Wayne game, it's the last frontier," Hall said. "It has nothing to do with concussions, it's just society is going soft."
Despite the drop in participation rates nationally, more high school students still participate in football than any other sport.