SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Student athlete Mark Leveron stars as one of Del Oro High School's varsity running backs.
As a senior on one of the Sac-Joaquin Section's top 25 high school football teams, life for Leveron must be pretty good.
But when asked about what it takes to be a football player, the response from this young athlete was much less glamorous.
"The game is hard," Leveron said. "If you don't have the drive to work hard or be tough, then you won't be a football player. You won't."
Every time he receives the ball during a game, he's getting hit.
The reality of this becomes even more evident as we watched this season's game film.
Wearing number 34, Leveron endured a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit that resulted in his first concussion.
"I don't really remember," he said. "But everyone was telling me that I kept asking where I was, what day it was and why I was there? And then I just became an emotional wreck."
Mark's mother, Wendy Leveron, was quick to rush down to the sidelines.
"I saw him and he kind of looked at me, crying, and he asked what I was doing there," she said.
"I was crying, and I had no idea what was going on," Leveron recalled. "I felt like a lost puppy."
As a seasoned parent of a high school student athlete, Wendy had seen her fair share of injured teammates.
"It's scary as a parent," she said in reaction to her son's first-ever diagnosed concussion.
Leveron's high school team had already prepared for the possibility that he and the rest of his teammates could be hurt with a concussion.
We asked Leveron's head coach, Casey Taylor, about the frequency of concussions on the Del Oro football team.
"We usually have a handful a year, to be honest with you," he said.
Coach Taylor said he required that Leveron's and all of the other players' brain functions be tested before the season even started.
It was a program that Taylor said they put in place last year.
"I thought it would be a great thing, being proactive," he said. "Safety for our players is number one for me. Everyone in our program had baseline testing."
At Sutter Neuroscience Institute, we watched as 16-year-old Justin Courtney received his own post-concussion testing from Dr. Michael Chez.
"Can you do this for me? Good. And now this?" the doctor asked as he went through his exam.
Courtney suffered from a concussion and had only recently recovered.
The baseline testing Courtney and others take involves a doctor assessing an athlete's balance and memory.
Doctors are then able to compare the athlete's before results with their tests after a concussion.
The differences help determine how much time an athlete needs before he/she can return to the game, if they can even go back at all.
"We have retired a handful of athletes, if they have sustained numerous concussions," Dr. Renee Low said.
New research shows that less than 10 percent of people who sustain a concussion actually lose consciousness and that there can be some long-term damage.
For Leveron and other young athletes with developing brains, research shows the healing process takes even longer.
"We want to make sure that they do not go back and play while they are still symptomatic," said Dr. Low. "This way they won't sustain a second concussion, which could be more severe."
This "Play It Safe Concussion Care Solution" program is the first of its kind in Northern California – a partnership between four area hospitals.
Doctors donate their time to test the players as well as educate both players and parents.
Schools participate at a cost of between $6 and $12 per player.
This insurance is free to the student athletes and covers up to $25,000 per injury.
Thanks to this baseline testing, Leveron knew exactly when it was OK to get back on the field.
"I wanted to make sure that when I came back, I was going to be coming back 100 percent," he said.
Sure enough, his best game came after his recovery – 100 yards rushing and a touchdown.
We asked him how it felt to be able to play again after sustaining such an injury.
"It felt great," he replied with a smile.
Leveron's mother was especially happy about her son's post-concussion success.
"We're so happy with the whole process," she responded when asked about the concussion care program and the student athlete insurance.
In a youth sport known for hard hits, it is comforting to see a case like Leveron's.
"From a scale of 1 to 10, it can get up to a 10," Leveron said about football. "The game is hard."
Fortunately, there is new recourse against concussions.
"You can't go back too soon," Leveron said, "because if you do, you could end everything."
For more information on the hospital/doctor consortium: www.sacramentovalleyconcussion.com/
For more information on the Wells Fargo student insurance division: wfis.wellsfargo.com/concussioncare
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