Jeff Feagles

NFL Health Update: Jeff Feagles glad to be Heads Up Ambassador



A retired 22-year NFL veteran, Jeff Feagles serves as a Heads Up Football Ambassador for the Ridgewood Junior Football Association (RJFA) in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Feagles, a former punter, earned Pro Bowl selections in 1995 and 2008 and won a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Feagles spoke about his role as a coach and Ambassador.

Why did you decide to become involved in Heads Up Football? Why is it important to you?
Once I finished coaching at the junior football level, which I did for seven years, I still wanted to be involved in the program. When I found out about Heads Up Football, I figured this would be great not only for me, but for our program. This was important to me for two reasons: 1) the safety of our children and the importance of training coaches on proper tackling; and 2) I wanted to try and get parents -- whose kids do not play football because they think it is too dangerous -- to understand how Heads Up Football can change their perspective.

What do you hope to share with the youth football players throughout the season?
I am hoping to share the correct way to tackle and use the fundamentals the coaches have been taught in practice and games. I want the players to grasp the terminology all the coaches are using. I also want the players to feel comfortable with what we are teaching and be able to self-coach, monitor and correct the other players if they are doing something incorrect.

How have you seen attitudes towards sports safety change?
The attitude among our coaches has been very positive. At first, most of them were skeptical about teaching this new technique. Once I was able to host a clinic and they were certified online, the concept and reality kicked in for the coaches. The most encouraging sign I have seen has come from the parents. They are very excited that there is a protocol for concussions.

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Jeff Feagles at forefront of 'Heads Up Football' in Ridgewood

RIDGEWOOD — Jeff Feagles remembers how coaches used to deal with head injuries when he played high school football.

During his days at Gerard Catholic in Phoenix, Ariz., the former New York Giants punter heard them say things like, "You’ve got to be tough to play the game. You’re going to get hit, and you’re going to see stars every once in a while, but that’s part of the game."

"It was just the way things were," Feagles said earlier this week, chuckling at the notion. "Nobody ever knew about this concussion stuff."

The Ridgewood resident and retired 22-year National Football League veteran now knows plenty on the subject. He has begun serving as the ambassador between USA Football’s Heads Up Tackling program and the Ridgewood Junior Football Association (RJFA), in addition to continuing his work as RJFA secretary for a third straight season.

That connection helped bring about the Ridgewood sixth-grade Jets’ appearance at halftime of the Giants/Jets NFL preseason game at MetLife Stadium on Aug. 24.

Feagles’ long-term hope is that his work with the Heads Up program raises the profile of concussion awareness within the RJFA and the village as well.

"The more we can get this out so the community can know what we’re doing as a league, the better," he said. "The whole premise behind this is to make sure everybody understands that, one, what we’re doing in Ridgewood is teaching safe football, and two, for anyone that’s on the fence about their kids playing football, they can be assured that our program is going to do everything it can to help the safety of the kids."

The RJFA is planning to hold an informational meeting for parents with regards to Heads Up Football next Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Ridgewood High School Campus Center.

All four of Feagles’ sons have attended RHS, including the youngest, Zach, now a freshman football player there. Though no longer coaching his boys in junior football, Jeff is still keeping an eye on players throughout the league as Heads Up player-safety coach.

"I did a clinic with all the coaches, showing them the techniques [of proper tackling] and what the program is all about," said Feagles, who has been involved with the RJFA as a coach and/or board member since 2004. "Then, our coaches have had to go online – and about 95 percent of them have, at this point – to take an hour-and-20-minute course to get certified. The third part [requires] them to apply what the Heads Up program is all about toward their practice plans."
Thus far, "they’ve all been very receptive," he added.

So, too, have coaches and trainers at the high school.

RHS head football coach Chuck Johnson noted that he has been a staunch proponent of proper tackling technique since he took the helm of the Maroons’ varsity in 1984.

"It’s bizarre to me that it has taken so long for this to become popular," Johnson said, "and it’s unconscionable to me that coaches as recently as five or 10 years ago were teaching kids to tackle [by] putting their head or their face in the middle of a ball carrier. So I think it [the Heads Up program] is awesome, and it’s way, way, way, way, way, way, way overdue."

The coach pointed to the well-documented injury of Marc Buoniconti (whose father, Nick, was a hall of fame linebacker for the Dolphins) as an example of why tackling technique is so critical. The younger Buoniconti was rendered a quadriplegic after absorbing a blow to the crown of his helmet while making a tackle in a 1985 college game for The Citadel in South Carolina.

"You don’t want to tackle with your head down," Johnson said. "That’s what happened to Nick Buoniconti’s kid; some… trainer taped his facemask so his head would be down, and that’s why his spinal column collapsed like an accordion.

"You teach tackling with the face up," added Johnson, who teaches physical education and wellness at RHS. "When your face is up, the muscles in your neck are contracted, and your neck is in its strongest natural position."

In addition, RHS trainer Nick Nicholaides has become increasingly involved with concussion diagnosis and awareness in his nine years on the job.

He initiated the ImPACT (Immediate Post Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) program at the school in 2006 and received a grant from Seton Hall in 2010 to create a concussion awareness program for the entire district, which adheres to the slogan: "When in doubt, sit them out."

As far as the Heads Up program goes, "It’s really great, because I think that youth-level athletics is someplace where there’s always been a misunderstanding of concussions," Nicholaides said. "A lot of times they don’t have athletic trainers on the sidelines like we do here at the high school level, so it’s really important to educate the coaches on what signs and symptoms of a concussion are."

Feagles confirmed that for the 2013 season, the RJFA has hired certified trainers to be at all Pee-Wee, Junior and Senior home games. He is also hoping that his connections with the NFL – as well as the pro league’s advocacy of Heads Up – will further draw attention to the cause.

"Brian McCarthy, who lives in town here, is a good friend of mine who works with the league, and he’s assured me that they’re going to continue to support the program," said Feagles.

"There’s even a chance that we may be able to get — and, I’m still working on this," he stressed, "but maybe surprise visit by [NFL] Commissioner [Roger] Goodell at one of the Ridgewood Junior Football practices. That would be a huge, huge thing."

At its core, though, the Heads Up program remains a grassroots initiative set in motion by USA Football, the national governing body of the game at the youth and amateur levels. The organization’s website ( outlines not only the protocol for concussion treatment but also for injury prevention, which even goes beyond tackling technique.

"Sometimes, the kids’ helmets aren’t fitting correctly, and that’s why their heads are hurting," Feagles said. "So we have to start at that level when we’re fitting equipment to make sure that these kids are safe."

In his eyes, the goal of healthy players will have the ripple effect of creating a healthier RJFA.

"Our [participation] numbers are down at the lower levels because everyone is so concerned about concussions," said Feagles. "Especially with the third through sixth grade teams, that’s where we’re really trying to make sure our numbers stay up."

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Giants fans still love Jeff Feagles

STAMFORD -- The loyalty of New York Giants football fans has never been in question.

But following a Super Bowl championship year, the fever pitch of Big Blue Nation were readily apparent Saturday during former Giants punter Jeff Feagles' autograph and photo session at the Bedford Street Stop & Shop Supermarket.

"It's fun to go out to these events," said Feagles, who does work with the community service wing of the Giants as well as pre and post-game work on game days with both WFAN radio and MY-9 TV. "It's always a good time to give back to the fans. The support of Giants fans in the tri-state area is tremendous."

As an added incentive for those on line waiting patiently for autographs and pictures with Feagles for their I-Phones, Stop & Shop held a raffle giving out 10 pairs of VIP Experience (Suite) tickets to Giants home games. Five sets for the Sept 16 clash with Tampa Bay and five sets for the Oct 7 meeting with the Cleveland Browns.

Giants fans came from all directions (Bethel, Wallingford, Long Island) with items for Feagles to sign.

There were commemorative Super Bowl footballs from 2007 (Super Bowl XLII, 40 players signatures thus far) and 2011 (Super Bowl XLVI, 30 players signatures).

There were those rare Jeff Feagles No. 18 jerseys. That gentleman proudly sported a Super Bowl XLVI tatoo on his left shoulder.

There were Super Bowl XLII programs, giant photos of old Giants Stadium. And the dad who drove home and returned with a football for Feagles to sign.

What was clear is that people need to practice taking photos with their I-Phones before coming to autograph sessions.

Feagles, a veteran of these get togethers, never leaves home without one special item.

His Super Bowl XLII ring from the Giants.

"I can't bring the Super Bowl trophy (Vince Lombardi Trophy). So my Super Bowl ring is a great icebreaker and conversation piece," Feagles said. "The kids really love it."

A photo wearing a Super Bowl ring is a priceless keepsake for any NFL fan, young or old.

Feagles punted for 22 NFL seasons covering 352 consecutive games before retiring at age 44 before the 2010-11 campaign. After stops in New England, Philadelphia, Arizona and Seattle, Feagles punted his last seven years for the Giants.

"Punting in the old Giants Stadium was an advantage for me," Feagles said. "Because I knew that whatever direction the winds were blowing on the flags at the top of the stadium, they were blowing in the opposite direction on the field. Not many opposing punters knew that. I haven't kicked a lot in new MetLife Stadium. But the wind is much easier to deal with there."

Feagles was a master of coffin-corner punting, sending the ball out of bounds inside the opponent's 10-yard line. In fact, 554 of his 1,713 NFL punts went out of bounds inside the opposition 20-yardline.

"Coffin-corner punting is becoming a lost art," Feagles said. "There's a lot of precision to the process. It's not taught in college football. And the number of warm weather teams and dome stadiums are a factor as well. The Aussie kick method from Australian Rules Football is the big thing now. It works on the same principles but is easier to learn."

Not surprisingly, punting remains the family business in the Feagles household.

"My oldest son punted for three seasons at North Carolina but took this season off. My second oldest son kicks at Avon Old Farms in Connecticut," Feagles said. "They were by my side during my prime punting years so I'm not surprised."

As for the 2012-13 New York Giants, Feagles isn't panicked despite last Wednesday's 24-17 season-opening home loss to the dreaded Dallas Cowboys.

"Everybody is out to get the Super Bowl champions the next season. Our 2007-08 Super Bowl champs went 11-1 the next year before Plaxico (Burgess) got hurt. We'll see what happens with the current Giants," Feagles said. "It was clear Wednesday that (injured) cornerback Prince Amukamara (high ankle sprain) needs to get healthy. Michael Coe did a good job at corner before he left in the fourth quarter (hamstring). When you're down to your 4th string cornerback (Justin Tryon) late in the game, that's trouble."

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