With all the innovation and concern for player health and well-being these days around football of all levels, one key area has gone pretty much below the radar, and pretty much unregulated for over forty years. Yet it is an area, or areas, where key injuries occur pretty regularly. Just ask Indianapolis Colts star quarterback Andrew Luck or the 49ers Ruben Foster or even the Packers Aaron Rodgers.
It is the shoulder. For years, while all attention has been placed on helmet innovation and the reduction of risk or occurrence of concussion, not just in the NFL but in all levels of football, shoulders have had the same heavy, bulky coverings. However in the last few years one company, a startup bootstrapped with funds and an idea that came while one of the founders, a former equipment manager, was driving a cab in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, has set to not just change, but successfully disrupt the protective pad industry, literally from the neck down.
The company is called XTech, and it is housed in a small warehouse in suburban New Jersey, not far from the New York Jets practice facility in Florham Park, and only a short drive from the New York Giants facility in East Rutherford, or the Rutgers campus in Piscataway. Also in a few hour radius is some of the most fertile football development grounds in the nation, from the fields of central New Jersey to the Friday Night lights traditions of Pennsylvania and beyond. Chances are if you find a field during the fall, or for a spring practice, the coach, or the equipment person will know of XTECH today, something that wasn’t true just a few years ago.
What is the secret that XTech has that has changed not just shoulders, but soon will be knees, thighs and legs and could even expand into sports like lacrosse, rugby and soccer? Waterproof, malleable, lightweight plastic combined with a patented shock absorbing foam called XRD, which is made by Rogers Corp., which now has an extended sports equipment agreement with XTech to only put its foam in the pads of the two founders, Teddy Monica and Bob Broderick.
Existing pads used a cheap, mass-produced foam, ethylene vinyl acetate, that breaks down and struggles to disperse impacts. Broderick went to YouTube and typed in “world’s best foam,” and found a video of a woman wrapping her phone in foam called XRD and dropping it off a five-story building. The phone survived intact.
The result has been a massive market growth for XTECH, challenging the long used, heavier and bulkier shoulders pads made by Douglas for the past 40 years. Every NFL team now has players in XTECH pads, with elite players ranging from the New York Jets Sam Darnold and the Chicago Bears Khalil Mack to the Broncos Vaughn Miller and the Falcons Matt Ryan quickly becoming devotees of the high impact absorbing foam that can prevent injury. And yes, after coming back from a shoulder injury, Luck switched to XTECH as well. The adoption has gone way beyond the NFL, with a majority of colleges big and small and a growing number of high school programs switching to XTECH.
An average of 70% of each roster and five teams with 95% of the players or more wearing XTech. In addition a majority of CFL teams are now almost fully adopted into wearing XTech, as well as over 400 NCAA schools and over 500 high schools, none of which are paid endorsers of the product.
The elite NCAA programs now fully adopted with XTech pads include: Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Baylor, University of Mississippi, USC, Washington St, Utah, Wisconsin, Penn St. Oregon, UCLA, Cal, Duke, Navy, Army, Boston College, Stanford, Syracuse, and Arizona St.
The over 500 High Schools Nationwide with XTech include: Mater Dei – CA, IMG Academy- FL, St. Thomas Aquinas – FL, Moeller – OH, DeLaSalle – CA, Southlake Carroll – TX, DeMatha – MD, Don Bosco – NJ, Bergen Catholic – NJ, McEachern – GA and Colquitt County – GA amongst many others.
Their customer service, with Broderick and his team on the road custom fitting players and delivering pads to players in just a few days, has really been the key to success. That, and the testimonials and anecdotes of players looking for lighter, safer and stronger who are not averse to challenging the status quo.
“Our plan from day one has been to have Teddy and the design team continue to refine what we do without risking quality and service to the players,” Broderick said recently during a stop on a school by school demonstration tour. “It hasn’t always been the easiest to challenge the establishment, but what we offer far outweighs any cost and risk, and the upward swung in safety is pretty much unparalleled in any area of predictive equipment. We know we have a bright future that will only expand, all you have to do is ask the guys wearing our pads.”
XTech expects that number to reach 100,000 within five years. They retail for just under $500 but the cost of time missed seems to quickly outweigh (literally) the expense, and on the high school level, many NFL players have now created gifting programs where they are absorbing the cost for their alma mater.
“Shoulder pads haven’t changed dramatically from when I was wearing them back in the ’60s and ’70s, which is incredible,” said Brian Billick, the former Baltimore Ravens head coach who is an investor in XTech told Sports Business Journal last fall. “It is a market that has kind of been static for such a long time.”
Science and sport working together; seems like XTech is a safe bet for success.