Nearly a year after suffering a concussion during a high school football game, former Lake Travis center Ryan Dolmanet offered a peculiar remark when asked about his decision to bypass his senior season.
“It was a no-brainer,” he said Friday.
His pun, while quite unintentional, could not have been more poignant. Playing four more months of football, he said, was not worth the risk of suffering further brain damage that might last a lifetime.
When the Cavaliers play host to Converse Judson in their season opener Friday night, Dolmanet will be in the Cavalier student section, watching his friends on the field.
“I know I’m going to miss playing, but …”
Dolmanet got his point across without finishing the sentence. The concussion he suffered in a game against Austin High on Sept. 28 was so severe, he was forced to cut his class schedule in half, sit for hours in dark rooms and refrain from watching TV or using a computer for the remainder of the fall semester.
“Even now, the road to recovery isn’t easy,” he said last week, on the brink of his senior year.
Dolmanet’s story speaks to the inherent danger of playing competitive football. An estimated 47 percent of all high school football players suffer a concussion each season, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Studies show, too, that football players who suffer multiple concussions, even at the high school level, are at risk for permanent brain damage.
Last season, four Lake Travis offensive linemen — Hunter Siddons, John Quinlan, Sean Peacock and Dolmanet — missed parts or all of the season with concussions. Dolmanet said both he and Quinlan were instructed by doctors to give up football for good. Quinlan did so as well.
Dolmanet did not know the extent of his concussion until he returned to practice three days after the 14-7 victory over Austin High. While lining up for a play, he fell forward onto his face. Believing he had slipped or been tripped, Dolmanet was not concerned until it happened again a few minutes later.
The seriousness of Dolmanet’s injury was revealed a day later, when he failed a neuropsychological test called ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing). Dolmanet said he failed five out of six tests during the ImPACT study and struggled to quickly recognize basic shapes such as squares and circles.
That started a journey that has taken the 6-foot, 220-pound Dolmanet through the frightening darkness of brain trauma. In the past 10 months, he has seen three neurologists, two of whom recommended he stop playing football for good. He also has seen a vision therapist and a balance therapist.
Dolmanet said a 20-week program of vision therapy has been beneficial. At the start of the program, he read at a third-grade level, averaging 220 words a minute. In 10 weeks, he has improved to 300 words a minute and has been able to concentrate better, his mother, Debbie, said Monday.
“Before this, if I read for 15 minutes, I couldn’t do anything for hours because my eyes were working harder than they had to,” Dolmanet said.
He was in attendance Monday as the 2013-14 school year began at Lake Travis High, and he’s on course to graduate in May.
In recent years, the University Interscholastic League has taken several measures to try to keep high school athletes safer. For starters, athletes who suffer head injuries are held out of strenuous activities until a physician clears them to return. Earlier this summer, the UIL Legislative Council passed an amendment that will limit football teams to a maximum of 90 minutes of full-contact practice per week.
Dolmanet, who said he’s 90 percent recovered from his concussion, did not need a neurologist’s opinion to realize his football career was finished. He remains sensitive to light and noise, and he has occasional headaches.
David and Debbie Dolmanet probably will have more anxious moments ahead because they have two other sons who play football. Austin is a 10th-grader on the Lake Travis junior varsity squad, and Blake is a seventh-grader at Hudson Bend Middle School.
Reluctantly, the Dolmanets will allow Austin and Blake to continue playing football.
“I like to think Ryan’s (concussion) was a fluke,” Debbie said. “Of course, we’ve all discussed this. If someone were to be in a car accident, I’m not going to say the others can never drive. They all know, though, that if they ever feel anything wrong, they have to stop.”