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Nick Salm coaching on the sidelines during a football game.
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Playmaker Highlight | Nick Salm

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December 15th, 2023

Keenan Crow

Welcome to another Xenith Playmaker Highlight - where we will be introducing a growing community of athletes, creators, coaches, and parents who are chasing dreams and taking their skills and experiences to the next level.

We know everybody has their own set of skills, a list of goals, and unique stories to tell, so this is our attempt to shine some light on these talented and ultra-motivated individuals.

Xenith Playmaker Highlight placed above an image of Nick Salm speaking to football players huddled around him.

Nick Salm is President and Founder of the Appleton Youth Football Association in Wisconsin and has been a loyal Xenith customer for nearly a decade. Thanks to his allegiance to the brand, the Appleton Youth Football Association has 650-700 Xenith football helmets on the field - and that number continues to grow each season.

Keep reading to learn more about Nick and his journey from the field, to the sideline, to now running/operating a youth football program:

Why do you trust Xenith for your athlete(s)?

The biggest thing to me with Xenith helmets is their track record for safety. The Appleton Youth Football Association has a well-documented history of providing the best equipment and coaching the best and safest techniques relevant to today’s game of tackle football. Xenith has proven to protect our kids since we started in 2016. We are exclusive to the brand due to its great performance in testing and on the field, and our parents trust Xenith gear 100% to protect their kids. The helmets provide a true edge for our athletes and fit most kids' heads better than other brands on the market. Xenith helmets might be one of the best parts of our program and we will continue to grow with our kids wearing them!

How did you get introduced to Xenith?

In 2009, while I was a varsity running backs coach at Appleton North High School, we were given the opportunity to test three new Xenith helmets to put on our players. We put them on our top three players: Middle Linebacker, Nose Guard & Tailback. Our Nose Guard had suffered a concussion previously and was a returning all-conference player. Our Tailback and MLB were both returning All-State players at very physical positions and on the field a lot. All three went through the season without a head injury and I largely credit Xenith for that success. So, when I started our new program, I based my experience on my decision and purchased exclusively Xenith X2E youth helmets.

What has kept you a Xenith customer?

Performance! Xenith helmets have proven to be the BEST helmet for our youth players, so when other programs looked at our track record for safety, they followed suit and now all five local youth programs (over 20 teams) are all exclusively in Xenith helmets! The best helmet on the field, in my opinion, and reasonably priced as well!

What/how did you get started with the Appleton Youth Football Association?

In 2015, we looked at our feeder programs in the Appleton area and we realized we were falling behind in quality youth/middle school football offerings. We needed to provide more and a better feeder program to our five high schools. In fact, we really didn’t even have true dedicated feeders to each of the schools. 

In fixing this, we created new clubs and partnered with the school district to align and establish facilities to practice and play games. In 2016, we launched the AYFA and have three clubs - one for each high school, East, North and West. Annually, we have over 300 players participating in our program. In addition to making a fresh start with our mission to provide safe and competitive opportunities for middle school tackle football, we also joined a very competitive youth football conference, so we needed to make sure we had the safest equipment we could afford.

How has being involved with the AYFA impacted your life?

I was a coach before I had any kids of my own. So the coaching part wasn’t new. However, starting and running a non-profit and organizing a league has had its challenges. Time commitment is the biggest one. I started the program when my kids were in grade school - this is obviously a very busy time for all of our parents. Thankfully, I had an incredibly giving and talented network around me and we all built the new organization from the ground up. I’ve learned so much about our community and certainly a great deal about myself. With the incredible experience and education I was able to acquire, I even decided to write a book about coaching youth football in hopes of helping others like myself! 

What feedback do you hear from parents about Xenith?

The feedback I receive from coaches, players and parents has always been very supportive of our commitment to exclusively using Xenith helmets. Our parents thank us every year for choosing to put high-quality gear on their kids to keep them safe. The kids all like them because they fit better than their Pop Warner helmets and they rave about how comfortable they feel during play. Our coaches also love that their players feel safe and confident every time they take the field!

What is your favorite football memory?

I have so many!! As a player, my favorite memory in High School was winning the Division 1 Wisconsin State Championship in 1992. As a collegiate player, my favorite memory was winning the Conference Championship in 1996. As a coach, I have a lot of fantastic memories of coaching some really talented players over the last 26 years, but personally, when I turned over the results of our safety report to the Appleton Area School District in our first year of collaboration, that was a true moment that our mission was already a success. 

In 2016, the first year of our program, we reduced our total head injuries from 11 down to 1 - in an entire season! The only two changes made was our coaching philosophy and our equipment. In fact, we actually played much more competitive football and more games. We knew the results would lead to great things including growth (parents happy about safety of their kids playing), relationship with the district and community awareness that our game was making great strides in changing and adapting new effective protocols through greater equipment upgrades and innovations, and coaching standards that teach a better and safer style of play. Huge moment for our game!

What should people know about the Appleton Youth Football Association?

The AYFA is committed to teaching the skills and strategies of the game in accordance with USA Football’s Program. USA Football’s Tackling and Blocking guidance has continually proven to make the game Safer and Better for all participants and is endorsed nationally by all levels of football. 

Our emphasis is on developing physical fitness, sportsmanship, teamwork, and leadership skills in a positive and safe environment. We strive to provide opportunities for all participants to develop individual skills and abilities while being a contributing member of a team, and it is important to AYFA that we provide a way for our athletes to build lasting friendships, great memories, and have fun playing a sport they love!