Bold, flashy uniforms are the latest craze to attract recruits
Oregon started trend of multiple wacky uniforms with different combinations
The public, fans may not like them, but recruits think they're edgy, cool
Many schools are in uniform game, including Arizona St., Maryland, Oklahoma St.
Fresh and fly. Those words turn college football coaches downright giddy as they hit the recruiting trail. And to elicit those words, trendy new uniforms help do the trick.
Programs across the country use uniforms to sell an image of bold and hip -- wooing recruits with the point of a threaded needle -- creating excitement and buzz. Case in point: Arizona State. When was the last time the Sun Devils came up in casual conversation about college football? But now Arizona State has recruits talking, athletes jazzed up and athletic department officials grinning. As one of the latest schools to update their threads like Oregon, the Sun Devils have grabbed their inner pitchfork and turned bold -- and very black -- uniforms into the freshest recruiting tool in the desert.
"I've always said if Oregon would have offered me (a scholarship), it would have been a tough thing to turn them down just for the uniforms," ASU defensive back Omar Bolden says. "And I hate cold weather." He proves the point that while some find Oregon's style excessive and borderline hideous, the players love the duds.
But now Bolden has what he always wanted. "They aren't just new jerseys, they are a new attitude," he says. "I'm liking this a lot more. Its new, its fresh, its fly."
Now Oregon has a new tool in its wardrobe too, just in time for the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin. The Ducks will unveil a new look, complete with 11 different materials on the uniform designed for efficiency. The new uniforms feature a chain maille mesh, new padding, breathable materials and a design with larger, bolder moves (duck wings mirrored on the shiny black helmet with the Oregon "O" in a top-center placement).
Oregon started the trend and now schools across the country are getting in on it, creating a fad of new unis, including Oklahoma State, Washington State, TCU, Maryland, Georgia and even Stanford.
Boldness creates buzz. Buzz begets attention, which, of course, lures recruits. "There were parents who told me, 'My son is interested because he loves your jersey and you have multiple jerseys,'" says former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti. "If you have that interest you can follow up with it."
Bolden predicts 80 percent of the Ducks play there because they were drawn by the uniforms. "I think there is a proven correlation in interest in recruiting and visual images kids see on TV that they think is cool," Bellotti says. "Our kids said we only get to play one game a week and it is nice to have options on how we dress. Interchangeable jerseys, different colors, adding black, strong colors, that all resonates with youth."
And it doesn't really matter what the general public thinks, only what the recruits want. "I know that the first couple of years many people were saying they hated the uniforms," Bellotti says. "But they were talking about them."
That's exactly what Arizona State wanted and Steve Hank, the associate athletic director in charge of the rebrand, says the Sun Devils succeeded in building "fantastic buzz" while improving consistency and making the school contemporary. Hank says students have told him the new look is "sick" and "a beast."
"We wanted to be bold and powerful and be contemporary with today's market for recruiting," Hank says. And that meant adding black and copper to the traditional maroon and gold, while playing up the pitchfork logo and pushing the un-hip Sparky logo to the bench.
It comes as no surprise the Sun Devils love their look, since the students joined with Nike to create it. Todd Van Horne, Nike's global creative director, says Arizona State wasn't afraid to embrace student-led "innovative" change. "I think if you listen to what the athletes are saying, they like to wear something different every Saturday," he says. "They like to mix and match. A little different look gives them pep in their step. It is the old Michael Jordan adage, 'I look good, I feel good, I play good.'"
Bolden even equates his new look to going on a date. "When you look good in something, you feel good and that sets the vibe for the whole night," he says.
As schools create a third jersey, what Van Horne labels a "big-game jersey," the thought centers around developing a tougher, badder and more aggressive "alternate ego" for the team. Since athletes beg for black don't expect the proliferation of black jerseys to fade anytime soon. "People look at it as sacrilegious," Bellotti says. "The people who are complaining about it haven't worn a jersey in 30 to 40 years, or haven't worn one at all."
"For us, black is an attitude," Hank says. "Not every school can wear black, but it resonates with the student-athletes and fan base."
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