Parents who lost son shine light on lesser-known football injuries

Player safety has football's spotlight, from the NFL to Pop Warner football for little kids.

While the focus has been on concussions and discouraging helmet-to-helmet hits, tackling is often lower on the body, from the shoulders to the knees -- and that opens up a different, potentially fatal worry.

Brian and Kathy Haugen, who lost their 15-year-old son Taylor seven years ago from a hit on the football field, are educating coaches, parents and players about those abdominal risks.

As receiver Taylor reached for a pass in 2008, two tacklers hit him, one from the front, another from the back. He staggered off the Florida field.

"They laid him down on the bench and he was losing color at that point," mother Kathy Haugen said.

She prayed that it wouldn't be as bad as she thought.

Taylor died the next day from a massive liver rupture. He was Brian and Kathy's only child.

They said they could have never imagined football would be the cause of his death.

"It was his passion. He loved the sport of football," Brian said.

The risk of internal injuries was not on their radar, they said.

"Now I look at it and it's like, 'Why did I not see this?' It's an entire area of their body that has no protection at all," Kathy said.

Three high school football players died from game-related injuries last month alone, and 16 have died since 2013.

Last Friday night in New Jersey, 17-year-old quarterback Evan Murray was hit in his midsection. He died from a lacerated spleen.

Abdominal injuries -- blows to the liver, kidneys and spleen -- are a new wave of worry in a sport adapting to the threat of head injuries.

"So I think we're gonna have the lower abdomen, ribs and chest be more targeted," said Dr. David Marshall, a sports medicine specialist at the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. "So that's good for the head, that's good for concussions, but might not be so good for the liver and the spleen."

At Johns Creek High School, the Haugens handed out protective shirts to the football team. The shirt, made by EvoShield, molds a polymer padding around a player's midsection and retails between $50 and $90. All 107 players got a shirt, from the varsity starters to the third-string freshmen.

After their son died, the Haugens started a foundation to educate -- and equip -- high school teams. But they're frustrated that no one now tracks how often these injuries happen.

For football parents, Kathy has this message: "Be our child's advocate. Because you cannot count on school administrations, coaches, athletic trainers -- really anyone. Who's going to protect your child's best interests more than you are?"

The Haugens have so far handed out almost 3,000 of them to middle school and high school players in seven states.