Former N.J. high school football player turns traumatic brain injury into inspirational podcast

Photo: David Bracetty

Former N.J. high school football player turns traumatic brain injury into inspirational podcast

Football

Former N.J. high school football player turns traumatic brain injury into inspirational podcast

Kevin Saum suffered a traumatic brain injury while playing football for West Morris.
(Photo: Courtesy of David Bracetty)

Kevin Saum wants a couple of things to be made clear up front. He isn’t opposed to youth sports. In fact, he still enjoys football, even though the sport almost claimed his life 11 years ago.

Saum acknowledged he shouldn’t be here right now, with an undergraduate degree from Rutgers and a Georgetown masters in sports industry management.

Saum hoped to play college football after graduating from West Morris. But that dream ended on Oct. 5, 2007, when he suffered second-impact syndrome on the football field, a traumatic brain injury resulting from cumulative insults.

Saum had experienced severe headaches after a hit on the field a week earlier, but hid his symptoms. After the second impact, he had a grand mal seizure and was airlifted to Morristown Medical Center where he received an emergency craniotomy to relieve the pressure on his brain.

RELATED: Kevin Saum accepts football Hall of Fame award

Saum’s long recovery was slowed by infection and an allergic reaction. But he beat the odds, since almost 100 percent of SIS survivors have some kind of disability – and 50 percent die.

Physically, Saum was OK – except for a scar curving from his hairline past his right ear. But healing his “identity crisis” took far longer.

“I didn’t wake up on Oct. 5, 2007, thinking I was never going to play football again, and that’s exactly what happened,” said Saum, 28, a Morristown resident. “I wasn’t prepared for that. I was backtracking to figure out what’s next.”

Saum worked for the Rutgers football team, and interned for the Jets while earning his undergraduate degree in sports management. He got more involved with health and safety issues in athletics, and launched the Heads ‘N Tales podcast to share stories like his.

“I was trying to heal myself, to find paths to try,” said Saum, who has worked for Atlantic Health for three years. “I’m trying to prevent the suffering for other people.”

West Morris alumni Kevin Saum and Josh Boyd have launched a podcast dedicated to analysis of NFL injuries and how they could possibly be prevented. (Photo: Courtesy of Lauren Johnson)

Saum and childhood friend, Josh Boyd, a 28-year-old former Monmouth University centerfielder, also launched weekly discussions about fantasy football – and injuries in the National Football League. They discuss big hits, penalties, and whether rule or equipment changes can make the game safer. Saum analyzes video with the eye of a former player, and Boyd as a fan who was “losing love for football.”

“I don’t blame football for my injury. I blame the mentality I had as a 17-year-old of sacrificing my body and trying to play through pain,” Saum said. “I never listened to my body, telling me to take a break or sit out because I was so hurt.”

Now up to 133 episodes – plus NFL recaps – Heads ‘N Tales is about to celebrate its third anniversary, not bad for a guy who “didn’t know how to record” when he started. It is downloaded about 3,000 times a month.

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Former N.J. high school football player turns traumatic brain injury into inspirational podcast
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