In the FCS Huddle: From safety to sideline

Chris Beranger could still be that football player.

The tough one who never fails to go full-throttle, never backs away from an opponent, a challenge, an injury. The one who wants to win no matter what it takes.

Even if it means risking further damage from a concussion.

You might say that player can be described in another way: uninformed.

Fortunately, that type of player is becoming a part of football's past.

Beranger isn't that way.

He could be preparing today for another season on the University of New Hampshire football team. But instead of being a three-year starter at free safety, he is a three-time victim of concussions. His career is over.

Ultimately, it was his decision to call it quits, and he resisted the initial urge to get right back on the playing field. To Beranger, making the tough decisions - better yet, the informed ones - regarding sports-related concussions, are so much easier for an athlete who surrounds himself with the right people.

Beranger recognizes his own limitations. Too many athletes don't.

"It's something that you really have to take care of," the 22-year-old said. "Like I give advice to anyone that's going through the same problem, take your time and don't stress out over things that you can't control. If I could control it, if this was any other injury - leg, arm - I've be back on that field already.

"But this is the rest of your life. I've looked into it and I don't want to be one of those guys that you see on the TV that has those problems with post- concussion syndrome. Because I do have those symptoms. And if I don't let it heal correctly, I'll be in the same spot."

Beranger knows the thrill of success in a UNH uniform. As a sophomore in 2011, he collected 142 tackles for the fourth-highest single-season total in program history.

He also knows the other side of the memorable game last Sept. 22 in Norfolk, Va., when Old Dominion edged New Hampshire, 64-61, behind quarterback Taylor Heinicke's record-setting performance - 730 passing yards and 791 total yards, both Division I single-game highs.

The 5-foot-11, 194-pound junior from Winthrop, Mass., was out of the game by the time Heinicke's final pass set up the game-winning field goal. On a third- quarter play, Beranger and UNH strong safety Manny Asam converged on a ball carrier, the runner slipped below his tacklers and the two defenders collided helmet-to-helmet.

It turned out to be the final play of Beranger's career.

"I thought I was going to be all right, I really did," said Beranger, who wanted to go back into the game. UNH's trainers, who evaluated Beranger on the sideline, realized there was no chance of it happening.

"I thought it was going to be a few weeks and then I would be back on the field. And then it just kept bothering me and bothering me."

Beranger suffered his first concussion as a redshirt freshman in 2011. He was back on the field less than two weeks later.

He suffered another one in preseason camp last August. He improved, but he found it hard to shake off all the effects as easily as the first concussion. He was vulnerable for more damage.

After getting hurt against Old Dominion, the severity of his symptoms worsened. Beranger didn't have his usual energy or bounce in his step. In fact, he struggled just to get out of bed in the morning. Dizziness became a part of the daily routine.

He was so slow in recovering that not only did the concussion end his season, but he had to take off the remainder of the academic semester while he rested and went through occupational therapy.

It was during this latest recovery that Beranger absorbed all the information around him, from the concussion-related lawsuits by more than 4,000 former NFL players against the league, to talks with his family, his coaches - his position coach, Terrance Klein, a 2010 UNH graduate, had played through a concussion in his career - his teammates - one of his former teammates, tight end Chris Jeannot, had his career end by concussion in the same season that Beranger suffered his first one - and his doctors.

He also listened to himself.

"He and his parents and our trainers and the doctors thought it would be in the best interest of him not to play anymore," UNH head coach Sean McDonnell said. "And I'm sure if it was 10 years ago, 15 years ago or when I was playing, this kid would be playing or would be doing things possibly to put himself in a bad situation. The education part of all this and the training room part of all this has been very important with these types of injuries for kids to realize what could happen - not just a year down the road but five, 10, 15 years down the road."

Football is the most common sport with concussion risk for males, with the NCAA reporting 2.5 concussions per 1,000 game-related exposures during the 2011 season. No two concussed players are exactly alike. What used to be described as a player getting his "bell rung" is a serious injury, and always has been.

Now it's being taken more seriously.

"Coming from an athlete playing for 10 years in a row, having my career cut short, this has been the hardest year of my life," Beranger said in his thick New England accent.

"I want to come back, but I know that if I take one more hit, it could be life-threatening effects."

Beranger says he feels about 95 percent recovered from the third concussion. When he plays basketball or works out, he might feel light-headed afterward, but it's nothing like he felt last fall, or could feel again if he continued his football career.

He will return to the Wildcats team as a student coach, working with the secondary under Klein and defensive coordinator John Lyons.

He is 20 credits shy of graduating with a sociology degree and is scheduled to finish up next spring while still on scholarship. Coming from a family in law enforcement, Beranger wants to be a policeman.

He's amazed simply how people's sense of awareness has risen since his first concussion. He laments the end to his career, but he considers it the right decision.

"It's just sad to see the effects that the game of football can have on you later on," Beranger said.

"It's the people around you that make it easy to make a right decision. Because if it was totally up to me, I would have been back on the field in the Old Dominion game."