PETER KING OF PRO FOOTBALL TALK: EQUIPMENT REVOLUTION
– Peter King
EAST HANOVER, N.J.—The Justin Jefferson catch three weeks ago against Buffalo, the one we’ve all seen 27 times, the one that gets better with age, got an assist from his shoulder pads. They are light, they give, they allow players to reach high in the air without the pads riding up on their necks and chin the way traditional shoulder pads do. “It really helped me extend my arms a couple extra inches,” Jefferson said.
The pads are the work of XTECH Protective Equipment, designed and manufactured in a crowded 5,000-square-foot facility in an industrial park a few miles from where the Jets train. XTECH estimates that in its 10-year history, about 80 percent of NFL players have transitioned to wearing their pads. They weigh 3.75 to 4.5 pounds, versus the 5.5 to 7 pounds of other pads, and are built so that players can have a full range of motion without the pads restricting arm use. A former NFL equipment man, Ted Monica, designed the pads knowing players always want lighter protection
and better freedom of movement. Monica and co-founder Bob Broderick thought there was so much emphasis in recent years on the helmet (rightfully so), but there was room to fix other protective equipment. Monica fixated on the shoulder pad. This little 12-employee company sells custom pads to pro, college and high school players (including Arch Manning for his high school season in New Orleans) in the U.S., and to amateur players as far away as China.
“Teddy’s a mad scientist,” said Rams director of equipment Brendan Burger, who has 52 of his players in the XTECH pads. “With the bigger pads, there’s more area for offensive linemen to grab, so he cut that down. It’s tough to get ahold of the XTECH pad. The fixes Teddy made, he basically revolutionized the shoulder pad.”
Or, as Raiders running back Josh Jacobs said, “It almost doesn’t feel like I got pads on. They’re light and comfortable, but when I get hit, I don’t feel too much either.”
Earlier this fall, on a visit to the XTECH facility, I was interested in how hands-on Monica was. The co-founder of the company sat at a sewing machine doing minute construction of one player’s pads. They were Rams safety Taylor Rapp’s shoulder pads. Rapp is a hybrid safety, who covers and plays a lot of run-support. He wanted pads lighter and slightly smaller than a traditional strong safety might wear. On this day, Monica spent an hour cutting and sewing the custom straps and padding for the webbing underneath the shell of the pad. “No two players are alike,” Monica said. “They all want their pads to feel comfortable, and they want to feel safe. That’s what a lot of the custom-fitting is about.”
Some players have a history with XTECH. Josh Allen wore the pads at Wyoming, and when he got to the NFL, he asked for a few fixes. One was a tight cushion, instead of the regular rubber strip, around the area of the pad that touched his neck. Another was shaving away some of the pad around his throwing shoulder so he’d have more freedom of movement when he passed. He also has a custom rib/lower sternum pad for extra protection.
Sometimes, emergencies happen. When Justin Herbert suffered fractured rib cartilage in week two against Kansas City, the Chargers called XTECH to try to craft protection so he could keep playing. After a series of FaceTimes, texts and phone calls between a team and a company 3,000 miles apart, XTECH created a pad that protected the exact area where Herbert felt the most pain. He’s been able to play for two months—and through 19 sacks—without missing time.
Football players are on a constant quest for lighter and sleeker equipment that still protects sufficiently. XTECH saw a need and filled it.