Many consider football a religion in the south.
With that being said, many athletes will sustain injury after injury, just to don their jersey each Friday night.
But when is enough, enough?
"I don't want to be paralyzed for life over one year of football. But as long as nothing happens, I want to keep playing."
Cameron Heard stands on the sidelines at Northwest Whitfield High School football practice. No helmet, no pads… he can only watch. He's benched for the season because of multiple injuries, including a concussion.
"After every hit, my head started hurting worse and worse. Eventually, everyone was telling me I was getting up slower and walking sideways. It just really hurt," said Cameron.
Cameron pushes past the pain to live up to family expectations. Both his brothers are former Bruins.
"I kind of have big shoes to fill, I guess. But I want to be better than them."
But Cameron is different.
He has Spinal Stenosis, or a narrow spinal canal, giving him higher risk of injury. His coach teaches several tactics to keep Cameron and others safe.
"When we're tackling, when we're doing anything, we tell our guys 'eyes to the sky,' because it locks your vertebrae in place and keeps you safe. Your eyes to the sky are a big deal. Anybody at any level of football will tell you that," said Head Coach, Josh Robinson.
Cameron's mother is a registered nurse. She understands the risks, but still allows Cameron to play.
"They're boys. They're going to get hurt whether they are playing football or basketball or climbing trees or riding bikes. So, I know there's a risk of him getting hurt. But boys are going to be boys and he loves football and basketball… so I let them play," said Kim Heard.
One Chattanooga neurologist agrees, many activities can cause concussions. However, he has seen one sport consistently send athletes to his office each fall.
"Clearly, football is and can be a violent sport," said Dr. Timothy Strait.
Dr. Strait says no medical testing can show evidence of a concussion.
"The diagnosis is made mostly by getting the story from the patient and people around that were eyewitnesses."
The biggest risk is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. Patients with CTE suffer from forgetfulness, depression, and sometimes, suicidal thoughts.
That risk is not confined to just college and the NFL. A recent study shows the G-Force of a hard hit to the head is the same for all players.
"But regardless, if you decide to play football, that's going to be something you may not be able to avoid," said Dr. Strait.
In his opinion...
"I would probably let my kids play football up until 5th or 6th grade, up through tag football. Then I might encourage them to play soccer or some other endeavor."
As for Cameron, his mom is on board, but they are waiting on the final opinion from the doctor.
Like most teens... he's living for today.
"I want to be with my team. I love my team. I love the bond we have between each other. They're like family."
Concussions usually take a few weeks to heal. Multiple concussions over time may never heal completely; which can lead to CTE and similar disorders.
It's important to keep in mind that football is not the only sport that can cause head injuries. Hockey, soccer, and many other sports can also lead to injury.
The bottom line for parents and kids is to have these discussions and decide what's best for their family.
By: Kelsey Bagwell