(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau spent 20 seasons in the NFL, went to 12 Pro Bowls and was a first team All-Pro six times, but his lengthy career took a toll on his body.
After his sudden suicide last year -- the National Institutes of Health studied his brain, and say he developed Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy after 268 games as a pro.
Heartland Health's concussion program coordinator Kate Esely says it is still unclear exactly how many blows to the head can cause the disease.
"There are still so many things that we are learning everyday trying to manage them better," Esely said. "But a long time getting beat up playing football could lead to some long term damage."
Incidents like Seau's are causing high school coaches to make sure players have the right technique in order to prevent injury.
"I think you have to be more aware of things. Just teaching tackling, we go by the standards," Lafayette head coach Paul Woolard said. "The NFL's really doing a good job of trying to teach see what you hit, getting your neck in the right position, not spearing people, not putting your head down. See what you hit is what we preach all the time."
Esely says the younger a kid is when they begin playing football, the more at risk they will be of getting a head injury as their brain continues to develop.
Recovery in high school athletes also takes longer than those at the next level.
"A high school athlete's brain is still developing. Once you get to the college or NFL, their brains are pretty much developed at that point, so the recovery for an older person is a lot quicker than a younger individual."
Woolard says it is not always easy getting players to admit when they have suffered head trauma, but they are opening up more and more now after seeing the long term effects of an untreated head injury.
"Football has such the attitude of 'don't show any weakness' and so forth, so a lot of times you would have players not really say much to you if they were dinged up, but I think the lines of communication have opened up more now that players will tell you if they are really hurting."