Ten years ago, Shawn Springs was focused on learning the Washington Redskins’ defense, and he spoke fluently about zone blitzes and coverage assignments.
Today, a conversation with Springs is far more likely to include a passionate discourse about linear impact and repelling energy.
He’s immersed himself in the world of science and engineering, hoping to produce the next generation of sports helmets and other protective devices though technology developed by his company, Windpact.
The stakes are personal for Springs. His son, Samari, will suit up for the University of Richmond this fall (and twin brother Skyler will play for Georgetown).
“I didn’t want to just come out and create a helmet company,” Shawn Springs said. “I wanted to be like Intel, and work with the larger host brands. I knew once we could solve for football, the application would spread to lots of different things.”
One application is in girls lacrosse, a sport that has traditionally been played without helmets. Springs teamed up with Rob Stolker, who founded Hummingbird Sports to create head protection for the sport after his daughters took it up.
“I took them to the first practice, and the first time I saw (the sport), I just could not believe that the girls’ heads were unprotected,” said Stolker. “I thought I’d come home and buy them helmets, but I went online and there was no such thing.”
Stolker set out to create a helmet for the sport, one designed for girls instead of just retrofitting a boys helmet.
The product is on store shelves now for $139, thanks in part to work done by Springs and his company. Windpact created a helmet that is soft-sided, so it won’t injure players who aren’t wearing a helmet, but also can withstand a 60 mph hit to the head from a lacrosse ball.
“I (initially) thought, give me 3-4 months,” said Stolker. “How hard could it be to make a girls lacrosse helmet? But it took 2½ years, and we were able to pass the test in large part because I was able to find Shawn and his incredible technology. That put us over the top and gave us an edge.”
Stolker said he thinks with the increased focus on head injuries, helmets will eventually be adopted as standard equipment in girls lacrosse — Florida is the only state currently mandating it.
Springs said he doesn’t view his work as done. He’s assembled a team of engineers that continue to work to find breakthroughs in helmet technology, and has even contracted with auto manufacturers interested in Windpact’s innovations.
“It’s about reducing linear impact,” said Springs. “No one knows exactly what causes a concussion. Our job is to get the latest foams and tools. This is just our first run at it, but we’re constantly retooling our technology.”
The inspiration for his career after football started during Springs’ playing days. His father was also an NFL player, and while recovering from an injury, Springs was struck by how little had changed.
“The same helmet that my father wore in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I wore my last season in New England,” he said. “So when I had the opportunity to develop this technology, I knew I wanted it to be not just for football players or hockey players, but take it into other sports and other avenues.”
From that vision came a company that will turn 6 years old next month. Springs received a grant from the NFL to continue his research, and hopes the group will be able to make safety advancements for his kids and future generations of athletes.