FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- During his time with the New England Patriots from 2010-2012, punter Zoltan Mesko made his mark both on and off the field, becoming the youngest winner of the team’s prestigious community service award. The Wall Street Journal once dubbed him the NFL's "most interesting man".
Now, as he transitions fully to his post-NFL career, he’s shifting into a higher gear with his off-the-field endeavors by delving into the highly charged area of head trauma in football.
First, a bit of history.
It was the Senior Bowl, 2010, and Mesko was one of the country’s top punters coming out of the University of Michigan. He blacked out briefly.
“It was a windy day, raining, a tough day to control the football and I was having a bad day; ended up falling flat on my face literally and figuratively,” he recalled. “Javier Arenas, from Alabama, was the returner and I shanked the ball a little bit inside, a 35-yard punt into the wind, and he catches it on the run and takes off to my left.
“I have him to the sideline, but one of my teammates is in pursuit as well and pushes me in the back. As Arenas steps out of bounds, my arms go out by my side, and from five feet up my head hits the turf hard. I drag my helmet into the rubber for about 3-4 yards. I looked like a rag doll.”
Mesko said he blacked out for “about two seconds” and couldn’t feel temperature the rest of the game. He never reported the concussion, in part because he didn’t want it to affect his NFL chances, despite experiencing headaches that night and the next morning.
Mesko never had another concussion while playing for the Patriots or with the Pittsburgh Steelers for seven games in 2013. But his personal experience, coupled with a desire to positively impact youngsters playing football after watching an ESPN special on a player who returned to action from a concussion too soon, has led him to research the issue more thoroughly.
The son of engineers, Mesko tapped his love of physics and science by experimenting with different ideas to potentially make helmets safer. Along with a fellow Michigan alum, Benjamin Rizzo, they focused more on the area outside of the helmet than the inside.
“Anyone who knows Zoltan knows how creative and energetic he is. Football is obviously something he is very passionate about,” said Rizzo, who connected with Mesko while both were living in Pittsburgh in 2013. “We thought that if we could come up with something to improve the sport, and other recreational sports, we’d do everything we could with the opportunity.”
What Mesko and Rizzo came up with is an impact reduction device they call the EXO1 (it is patent pending). Their project now has a team of six Harvard MBA, medical and law students working on it in the form of a company called Impact Labs.
Where it goes from here is a developing story, one that Mesko is excited to see unfold. He said he has received a positive response from players in the NFL to high school and youth coaches.
That the former Patriots punter is in the middle of it all comes as little surprise based on the impact he made in his short time playing in New England.