HARKER HEIGHTS, Texas — The 2019 Texas 7-on-7 Championships will look slightly different.

Beginning with this year's state tournament, the Texas 7-on-7 Organization is requiring players to wear softshell helmets during the game.

"Safety's always been something the board has been concerned with and when we've had issues, we've tried to address them and always be proactive," Brandon Houston, executive secretary of the Texas 7-on-7 Organization, said.

Houston also works at Buffalo High School, where he serves as the district's head football coach and athletic director. Previously, he was the offensive coordinator during Rockdale's 2017 state championship run. He said the board keeps a rough estimate of injuries at the state tournament to make sure there are no immediate safety concerns needing to be addressed.

"You see injuries time-to-time from the head-to-head contact going up for a ball, just from wide receivers and defensive backs going up for a ball," Harker Heights High School coach Jerry Edwards said. "So, the ability to get our kids in some soft protective gear really helps out to keep our kids safe, and that's what it's all about."

Beginning in 2020, the helmets will be required at all state qualifying tournament.

Houston said this stems from the UIL, which governs public school extracurricular activities in Texas, redefining what non-contact equipment could be used, including softshell helmets.

Now, schools can wear the helmets during offseason workouts as a safety measure, something Edwards said he plans to begin doing as Harker Heights builds its supply.

Edwards said the helmets cost between $70 and $85. In his program's case, the booster program helped pay for the helmets.

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