‘The Hail Mary of helmet switches' Northern Colorado pulls off in-season move on key piece of equipment

It’s out with the gold and in with the navy for the Northern Colorado football team helmets this year.

As of the second game of the year on Sept. 9, the Bears will wear navy helmets for the rest of the season in a cost-saving move designed to give players a better quality helmet in their preferred style among two different brands, Riddell Speed Flex and Schutt F-7.

In the recent past, UNC has had two different color helmets in use: navy and the sunflower gold, which is the official name of the bright color helmet leaning toward the yellow side of a color palette.

“I think for people who care about UNC and UNC football, and who are following the story … I think, in the end, this is going to be a great story of a team that did more with less,” Bears coach Ed Lamb said earlier this week. “That’s really what we’re doing here.”

UNC wore the sunflower gold helmets with a bear decal on both sides against Abilene Christian in its first game of the year on Aug. 31. The Bears switched to navy with a block UNC decal for its first home game a week later against Incarnate Word.

The change was the brainstorm of the director of equipment operations, Sean Markus.

The team considered, or at least discussed, at one point buying a new set of white helmets. Markus figured out that by repainting 60-75 helmets to navy — and staying with one color — the football program and university could save $18,750, which would be the cost to purchase the helmets new.

Football helmets cost about $375 at a starting price, Markus said. Newer models introduced could run up to $2,300. If UNC ordered 105 new white helmets, the cost would’ve been around $60,000.

The six dozen or so repainted helmets were packed up and sent to Harco Athletic Reconditioning, Inc. in Fort Collins. The total bill? About $4,000. Markus said earlier this week the university hasn’t received the invoice from Harco.

“We’re trying to be creative, problem solvers with the helmet they (the players) want,” Markus said.

The helmets are under warranty for 10 years. Every year, the helmets are sent out to be reconditioned to check for defects and wear and tear, according to NCAA rules.

The bottom line in the change is providing all 100 players with the brand the players want — the Riddell and the Schutt, which offers newer technology — without spending as much money as other teams.

“The way we can do it is, we can sacrifice wearing an alternate color,” Lamb said. “To have our guys on top of that, I think, really shows they understand what this football program stands for, they understand what this university is all about.”

The timing of the transaction from sunflower gold to blue helmets was interesting because the work was done in season, leading assistant equipment manager Zachary Reynolds to call the effort “the Hail Mary of helmet switches.”

After the team played at Abilene Christian in the sunflower gold helmets, Markus and the equipment team had a limited amount of time to get the helmets to Harco for repainting. The company turned around UNC’s order in about two days, Markus said.

The repainted helmets were back at UNC in time for the Sept. 9 home game against Incarnate Word

The equipment team removed the face masks and decals from the sunflower gold helmets before they were sent out to Harco. Players were fitted for other helmets in the interim.

When the repainted helmets came back to the university, the face masks, chin straps and decals were reinstalled on the navy helmets — a process called rebuilding the helmets.

“They had to be ready to go for that Saturday (against Incarnate Word),” Markus said.

Bears kicker and punter Hunter Green is among the players who like the shift to a one-color helmet for this season.

“I think the blue helmet looks better in my opinion,” said Green, a redshirt freshman from Redmond, Washington. “I think it’s a smart decision because it cuts costs in terms of money spent on helmets that we can put somewhere else in the program.”

Green is also an accounting major.

Long snapper James Eichler said football helmets differ in what they offer players and how the helmets feel. Some are heavier and have more protection for a player at a higher contact position. Others are lighter with less protection for athletes not seeing as much head contact, such as Green.

For his positions, Green hasn’t seen much contact in his time at UNC, so he’s looking for comfort.

Eichler said he’s also played linebacker in addition to long snapping. A linebacker is a high-contact position on the field and one usually in the middle of the action on defense.

For that role, Eichler said he prefers the Riddell Speed Flex because of the protection. He said he could use a lighter helmet for long snapping.

“It’s one of those things where comfort’s nice,” Eichler said. “But when you start getting hit in the head, it feels better to feel better, you know?”

Source: Read Full Article