Will Harlos' first season in a Colorado football uniform is a cautionary tale.

He joined the program as hard-hitting defensive back and special teams standout from Somerset, Texas last summer and hoped to impress coaches and earn playing time as a true freshman.

Harlos achieved that goal, playing in each of the Buffs first four games. But he risked his health -- maybe even his life -- and his football career to do so.

He suffered a concussion in the second scrimmage of fall camp in August. He sat out a few days until he was cleared by team physicians and when he returned to the field he suffered another concussion and didn't tell anyone. He managed to hide his symptoms for six weeks through those first four games until his headaches became too intense and began preventing him from sleeping, studying or functioning normally as a student-athlete.

2012 CU football schedule

Sunday, Sept. 2 - Colorado State, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High

Saturday, Sept. 8 - Sacramento State at Folsom Field

Saturday, Sept. 15 - At Fresno State

Saturday, Sept. 22 - At Washington State

Saturday, Sept. 29 - UCLA at Folsom Field

Thursday, Oct. 11 - Arizona State at Folsom Field

Saturday, Oct. 20 - At Southern California

Saturday, Oct. 27 - At Oregon

Saturday, Nov. 3 - Stanford at Folsom Field

Saturday, Nov. 10 - At Arizona

Saturday, Nov. 17 - Washington at Folsom Field

Friday, Nov. 23 - Utah at Folsom Field

He finally came clean after CU lost at Ohio State and doctors told coaches he would be out indefinitely and might not play again. There is no way of knowing how many concussions he sustained during the time he failed to report his symptoms.

"I learned to tell the doctors up there exactly what is going on at all times," Harlos said. "There is no point in coming out here and trying to be a hero and trying to prove you're tougher than everybody. It's just going to hurt you in the long run. So if you're feeling something, you need to go up there and tell them exactly what you're feeling and they will take care of you. It's a great staff up there."

Coach Jon Embree and head athletic trainer Miguel Rueda said they constantly remind players of the importance of being honest about any injuries they might have, whether they are concussion related or not. But reporting concussion symptoms has become a bigger emphasis in recent years because of research that has shown the long-term effects they can have on the brain

"All you can do is educate," Rueda said. "We try to educate many times throughout the year. It's up to them whether they choose to follow it or not, but you try to express the gravity of the situation for sure."

Rueda said there is no equipment available that can completely protect players from concussions. He said the training staff will monitor Harlos this year through constant communication. Harlos said he will wear a helmet designed to minimize impact to his head.

Embree said he is taking it upon himself to monitor several players on the roster with a history of concussions.

"You got to trust them," Embree said. "There are guys who have history of it so I'm going to keep a close eye on them. If I see them kind of not looking right, I'll make that decision. I'm always going to err on the side of being extra cautious with that. So if there is a guy that is, eh, then I will pull the plug on him.

"We've had a couple guys who have had some issues and they got another concussion and they didn't get an opportunity to come back. They were done. I don't take that lightly. We have some guys who if they get one more concussion, they're done. It's not up for debate. If they want to play, they've got to go somewhere else. I'm not having it on my shoulders."

Harlos missed the remainder of the season and has appealed to the NCAA for a medical redshirt, which would turn last fall into a redshirt year and make him a redshirt freshman in 2012 instead of a sophomore. He is expecting a decision any time now.

Harlos credits the athletic training staff, CU doctors and his tutors for helping him survive the fall semester and remain academically eligible. They helped him work with professors, who allowed him to take tests in quiet environments and even delay some tests when he was unable to focus for long periods. A neuro-psychologist helped him through some tough times.

"Last season was really frustrating," he said. "I felt like I let a lot of people down. I just worked really hard to overcome it. So many people in the training room helped me out. I'm just thankful to be back on the field."

Harlos has returned to practice this spring and says he is completely cleared. Rueda confirmed that. Harlos said he had to convince his parents to approve his decision to continue playing football, but they ultimately supported his choice.

Harlos acknowledged that he knows he is at risk of sustaining another significant concussion and the long-term effects that can accompany such trauma.

"I love football more than I fear for a concussion," Harlos said. "It really overcomes it. I'm not really worried about it. I just want to come out here and play ball and show these people what I can do."