Here in Morgantown, the progression in equipment will be witnessed first hand this season as the Mountaineers will wear state-of-the-art headgear on the field of play in the form of the Schutt DNA Air helmet.
According to the Schutt Sports website, the Schutt DNA Pro has "changed football helmet technology forever." The helmet's features include dart-shaped holes on top for more ventilation, and a SKYDEX padding system inside to provide the best protection and comfort. As a matter of fact, this same SKYDEX padding system can be found in the helmets of United States military fighter pilots and paratroopers as well as the decks of US Navy SEAL boats.
"Research has shown that SKYDEX paddding does not break down like traditional foam padding, even after thousands of impacts," the website claims. "Plus, it's resistant to mildew, fungus, and bacteria."
"I told Danny Nehlen to get the safest, best helmet out there," said seventh-year head coach Rich Rodriguez.
Nehlen, West Virginia's longtime football equipment manager, says that he and his staff are constantly looking for the best products on the market.
"Basically you have Riddell and Schutt; those are your two companies (that produce helmets)," explained Nehlen. "We've been doing business with Rodney Zide for years in Marietta, and he always keeps us abreast of the new helmets that are out there."
Last season, roughly a dozen Mountaineer players tried out the DNA and the results were pleasing enough that Nehlen opted to outfit the entire team with them in 2007.
"We just feel that this helmet has the best test results, which is pretty much the main reason why we have decided to go with it exclusively," Nehlen remarked. "We had probably 10 or 12 kids in that helmet last year and had success with it.
"This year we talked to coach (Rodriguez), told him what we wanted to do, and he was fine with it," he continued. "He's always said that if we find something that's a better product than what we have that we're going to go with it. We think that this is a better product."
The most important function of the helmet, of course, is safety. And although the warning label on it cautions that, "NO HELMET SYSTEM CAN PROTECT YOU FROM SERIOUS BRAIN AND/OR NECK INJURIES INCLUDING PARALYSIS OR DEATH. TO AVOID THESE RISKS, DO NOT ENGAGE IN THE SPORT OF FOOTBALL", this particular device looks to be the best and safest on the market.
"You shouldn't get as much rotation with this helmet, plus it's an AIR helmet so you have air going in the back, the sides, and the top," said Nehlen, who has clearly done his homework on this product. "As long as the players keep everything strapped up then it should be fine."
So far, the men who will be wearing the headgear this fall have mixed feelings about it.
"I don't like them," said senior safety Eric Wicks. "I think they'll probably be better for impact and things like that, but they're just squeezing the heck out of our heads right now.
"They feel a lot different. It might help out in the long run. That's probably why they've made this change, so I guess it's for the best."
Offensive lineman Greg Isdaner was more diplomatic in explaining his initial impression.
"I don't know where those came from," he said. "I came downstairs on the first day and wondered ‘what the heck is this?' It's taken a little bit of getting used to, but it's new. It's starting to fit on better. The most important thing is that it's going to prevent a lot of head injuries and concussions. I think it will be fine; it will just take some getting used to.
"I think the general consensus is thumbs up."
The Mountaineers are not the first team to be outfitted exclusively in this particular helmet. Ironically, old rival Penn State wears the same style. Nehlen expects that the helmet will soon become even more prevalent in the college game.
"I think you'll see this trend throughout the country," he admitted.
They may look a little bit different and unconventional. They may -- as Isdaner pointed out -- take some getting used to. But in a game that is seeing bigger players, harder hits, and more head injuries, the Schutt DNA is by all indications the safest helmet on the market.