OSKALOOSA, Iowa -- It's been four months since Tyler Sash died unexpectedly from an overdose, and medical experts recently diagnosed him with chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
The 27-year-old former Hawkeye was found deceased in his Oskaloosa home last September after he accidentally overdosed on pain killers, an autopsy found.
CTE has been found in dozens of former NFL players after, however, experts say the stage of Sash's CTE is rarely seen for someone his age.
“The fact that he is so young is probably the chronic accumulation of all his injuries over time,” said Dr. Mary Beth Russell, an osteopathic doctor at Mercy Medical Center’s brain and spine center.
Sash had at least five major concussions in his five-year career, but concussions aren’t the only way to develop the brain injury. Repetitive trauma to the head can also be a factor.
“I think anytime you can limit the contact sports or the chance for concussion is better,” Russell said.
Metro junior football leagues are taking notice and are implementing ways kids can still play the sport with less of a risk for injury.
“Our numbers have grown. We are one of the few leagues in the country that have grown due to the flag football concept we brought,” said William Morris, president of the Ankeny Junior Football League.
The junior football league allows third-graders to participate in tackle football. Recently the league started a no tackle option through kids in the seventh grade.
Coaches say their goal is to educate players at a young age on the proper tackling technique. In the event there is a concussion, they say there's more to be done once players are off the field.
“I think the biggest thing is the actual after they get the concussion, is not sending them back into play right away,” Morris said.
The Iowa Athletic Association’s head injury protocol says players must pass a seven-step test and be signed off by a doctor or trainer before heading back on the field.