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Dartmouth Tackling Dummy Paves Way to Smart Football

The MVP on the Dartmouth football team is not a player, but an actual MVP — a motorized, remote-controlled tackling dummy called the Mobile Virtual Player.

The MVP is gaining more attention as a vehicle to reduce concussions in football. It made its public debut on CNN last September, then gained a late night audience on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” last October.

Now football teams in college and the pros are taking a long look at the special practice player with a high motor. According to an article last week in The Washington Post, at least two NFL teams have called Dartmouth about the MVP, and it was featured at Michigan State’s recent spring practice. Collin Klein, a 2012 Heisman Trophy finalist at Kansas State and now an assistant coach at his alma mater, mailed a card to the Dartmouth office in Lebanon, N.H., that reads, “The technology you work with will make our players and game better.”

Related: Could Ivy League's Reduced Tackling Help Save Football?

And to think the motorized tackling dummy was this close to never seeing the playing field. It took the girlfriend of one of the MVP’s inventors to save the project. Molly Stifler found the tackling dummy in a dumpster near a fraternity on campus, according to the Post story. She contacted her boyfriend, Elliot Kastner, a former defensive lineman at Dartmouth who worked on the project a couple of years ago before it was disbanded. They loaded the dummy in the back of her Toyota Highlander, and soon, Kastner, co-inventor Quinn Connell (a former Dartmouth rugby player) and two other students in Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering went back to work.

Today, the MVP has its own trademark, fundraising has increased and a new manufacturing machine recently arrived from California to make more tackling dummies, the Post reported.

The results have paid off for Dartmouth, which won the Ivy League championship last fall, is 17-3 over the past two seasons and 29-11 over the past four. Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens began banning tackling in practice in 2010, and his players say they feel fresher on gamedays. Last month, Ivy League coaches voted unanimously to ban full-contact hitting in practice

“If you take one [hit] on a Tuesday, and you take a decent hit on Saturday, the fact that you had the subconcussive hit on Tuesday may contribute to the concussive hit on Saturday,” Teevens told the Post. “And if you don’t have that subconcussive on Tuesday, and you had that same hit on Saturday, you’re probably not concussed.”

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