The key weapon in the battle against brain injuries to high school football players may very well be tucked into the belts of the officials calling the game.
According to Dr. Fred Mueller, one of the authors of the annual survey of catastrophic football injuries, football officials need to throw more flags to help protect the players from serious injury.
"You don't see a lot of flags thrown for leading with the head," Mueller said. "But if the officials will call it, the coaches will make sure they teach it."
According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, last year 13 high school football players suffered catastrophic brain injuries. While the raw number of cases may seem small when considering there are over 1.5 million student-athletes participating in the game each year, it is the highest number in any single year since the research facility began tracking injuries in 1984.
Mueller said that while rule changes were made in the 1970s, he fears that catastrophic injuries may be on the rise.
"In the 1960s and '70s we had a spike in deaths and catastrophic injuries in high school football," he said. "There were rules changes in 1976 that made it illegal to lead with the head while tackling or blocking, and the safety improved dramatically.
"It is too early to say for sure yet - we need a couple more years' data - but I fear we are headed back up."
Mueller added that the influence of big hits in the NFL - as well as the current New Orleans Saints bounty scandal - makes it hard to curb young players from emulating what they see from professional athletes.
"There is no doubt that the high school players are being influenced by what they are seeing in the NFL," he said. "The emphasis on the big hit with the excitement of the announcers and playing of the hit over and over in replays is having an impact. And the thoughts of a bounty system for injuring players is disturbing."
The data released earlier this week indicates that while fewer players are dying from head injuries, the sheer number of instances is on the rise.
In recent years the National Federation of State High School Associations, an association that governs high school athletics across the country, has made numerous rules changes in an effort to reduce head and spinal cord injuries, including many on kickoffs.
Only Texas and Massachusetts do not play by NFHS rules, electing to play by collegiate rules.