Leading the Way

Park-Cottage Grove first team to wear

Guardian Caps during season

by Bryan Zollman

Park-Cottage Grove players took the field this season in an entirely different fashion.

While still wearing traditional helmets, the players also wore the Guardian Football Cap.

The Guardian Football Cap is padded, soft-shell layers designed to reduce impact to the hard shell and thus reduce overall impact to the player’s head. NFL players wore the caps in practices during the 2022 season and found a reduction in general impact and concussions.

Park-Cottage Grove became the first high school team in the state to wear the caps during a game. When they ran out of the tunnel in Week 1, there was a different look, but the same feel.

“The kids don’t really notice it at all,” said Park-Cottage Grove Head Coach Rick Fryklund. “Even fans or chain gangs will say they noticed right away but after about three minutes it was just watching the game.”

When asked if players felt more confident in engaging with other players due to the extra protection, Fryklund said kids played the way they always play.

“They don’t play any differently and we don’t coach any differently because we wear them,” he said.

Fryklund said he feels it minimizes impact and risk.

“If I can do something to keep this great game going, and if I can keep my student-athletes safer then I will,” he said.

PHOTOS SUBMITTED Junior quarterback Miskir Esayas breaks through the line in a recent game against East Ridge wearing a protective shell over his helmet known as a Guardian Cap. Studies show the cap helps reduce the risk of concussions.

Fryklund said he has received questions about the caps, but no negative feedback.

“Every coach I speak to is very curious to hear about it and wants to learn more,” he said. “I also have been hearing from multiple 6A coaches who believe there will be more schools wearing them in games next year.”

While the caps are proven to minimize risk, it doesn’t mean they don’t come without a cost. The Park-Cottage Grove football program funded $11,000. The program received generous contributions from the St. Paul Park and Newport Lions’ Clubs.

“It is a significant investment, no doubt,” Fryklund said. “And one made purposefully because it keeps the game going, it keeps student-athletes safer, and it allows us to show our community another tangible way we are leading the movement to keep this game and their participants safer.”

According to a study done by the NFL, positions where a Guardian Cap was worn saw a 52 percent reduction in concussions. They are currently researching position-specific helmets. For example, a quarterback would have extra protection in the back of their helmet because they are usually hit from behind. Research on improving safety and continuing to reduce concussions is said to be promising, according to an NBC Sports article.

“If the NFL did not see such convincing data on player safety and the usage of this, I sincerely doubt they would have increased their mandate on using these in practice for all positions this past year,” said Fryklund.

For Fryklund, player safety is at the forefront. Currently all players between grades six through 12 wear the protective caps. Next year that will include third through fifth graders as well.

“What is great about this is I can look any mom in the eye in our community and show them, in tangible ways, how we keep kids safer and lead the way in the state of Minnesota with this.”

Park-Cottage Grove lines up against East Ridge. Park-Cottage Grove players wear a special cap that helps protect them on impact. More and more schools are expected to wear the caps in the future as player safety stays at the forefront of high school football. Park-Cottage Grove is the first Minnesota High School team to wear the caps.


NFL Studies have shown a 52 percent reduction at positions that wore the Guardian Cap during preseason practices. They are currently researching position-specific helmets. 

According to GuardianSports.com:

Physics say that an outer “soft” material of the proper density, stiffness and energy absorbing properties reduces the initial severity of the impact. The hard shell then has lower forces transmitted to it, and in turn conveys lower forces to the interior soft helmet padding and then lower forces to the head. Very similar to a NASCAR driver and the soft wall technology that tracks have adopted or even automobiles and the soft bumpers and airbags that are now required. The Guardian Cap serves the same purpose for an athlete’s head – a soft shell barrier between it and impact.