September 15, 2011

Uniforms make difference in recruiting

Alternate Uni-verse: New uniforms attract attention

Nick Brigham chuckled when he heard the question.

So what did you really think about Maryland's new uniforms?

This was not the first time Brigham, a three-star offensive guard from Atlanta (Ga.) Marist School who committed to the Terrapins in March, had a conversation about the eccentric uniforms that Maryland debuted in its opener against Miami earlier this month.

Friends had called him, ranting that it was the ugliest get-up in college football. Others, more supportive, said they loved the flamboyant look Under Armour designed.

"Talking to my friends, it was kind of funny because it's one of those love-hate things," Brigham said. "A bunch of them were like, 'They were terrible,' and then the other half was saying they were the coolest uniforms they'd ever seen. When they ran out I went crazy."

For those who have not seen them yet - count yourself lucky or unfortunate depending on one's fashion sense - the uniform can best be described as a replica of Maryland's state flag draped over the shoulder pads, helmet and even arm warmers.

Maryland's revamped uniform was big news around the program and even had a covert sense of importance since a few days before the opener, Brigham received a phone call from Terrapins assistant coach Lyndon Johnson. The message: Be on the lookout for something special. And that shows Maryland considered the wild uniform alterations a recruiting advantage.

Thank you, Oregon Ducks.

Oregon has long been known as the school with the wacky - and always changing - look, courtesy of its close relationship with NIKE. The renaissance in uniform design originated by Oregon now has cascaded down to the rest of college football with Maryland, Georgia, Oklahoma State, Boise State, Arizona State and many other programs unveiling eyebrow-raising outfits - all hoping to catch the eyes of elite 17-year-old football players.

Arizona State scrapped its old uniforms this season for an edgier, more industrial look that introduces black and copper to the traditional maroon and gold. A new pitchfork replaces the Sun Devil mascot, Sparky, on the helmet.

Flashy uniforms and immaculate facilities have become so important in the dogged world of recruiting that Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said if it sells to top recruits then his program is going to do what it takes to stay competitive.

"Life has changed, hasn't it?" Erickson said. "Facilities, uniforms, young people make decisions on that, that's just how it is. In saying that, it's different than it used to be but that's how it is and you deal with the times and go on and do whatever you do to get the football players you need to be successful.

"(Nike and the Arizona State marketing staff) were very cognizant of what the young person likes and is interested in and let's face it: Oregon is the one who started that and you see it happening all over the country now."

Boise State coach Chris Petersen said it's difficult to gauge how influential uniforms alone have been in recruiting success - maybe, just maybe, the Broncos making it a habit of beating big-name national programs has done more for recruiting - but they're a piece that can't be forsaken.

The Broncos unveiled an innovative look and color scheme for their opener against Georgia, which also showed off a new look. Boise showcased a blue Bronco covering almost an entire side of the helmet - but just one side of the helmet - along with all white uniforms. Georgia's helmet was mainly gray with a traditional black 'G' and then a red stripe down the middle.

It was an unusual and striking departure from the norm for each program, especially the tradition-rich Bulldogs. But it was just another necessary step to get noticed by recruits across the country.

"The kids like it," Petersen said. "When we get them here on visits and we show them the different looks we have they're very intrigued by it. Some are more into it than others but I think it has an effect and it all matters."

Prospects are all different so uniforms can matter a great deal or not at all. Some go to school for certain majors, some go because everyone in their family has gone there, some commit early, some switch on National Signing Day and some kids love Penn State's old-school uniforms that haven't seen significant change in half-a-century.

But some like - make that, really like - the flashy trends.

Brigham was infatuated by Maryland's uniforms but four-star wide receiver Bryce Treggs, a California commit, wasn't so enthralled.

"Those were nasty, I didn't like Maryland," Treggs said. "They did a little too much. Oregon is the best. They're the top NIKE school in the nation and I like Cal's uniforms."

Jeff Lockie, an Oregon quarterback commit, doesn't seem to care at all about uniforms and said they played no factor in his decision. At the school with NIKE money running deep through it, Lockie was not at all influenced by the fashion behind college football.

"As much as people say it does matter I have to say it did not matter to me," Lockie said. "It's a decision I'm making for the next four or five years of my life, I'm not going to pick a place because of the way they look on game day.

"Every school has nice uniforms and some are better than others, but you want to go to a place where you're OK with the coaches and the place you are and the people around you, not so much what jersey you're wearing."

Here's something else to consider: Many prospects said at the high Division I level all the schools have incredible uniforms, that all these big-time programs have unreal facilities and that it's just a matter of preference to each person.

During numerous junior day visits, Treggs and Brigham said seeing equipment rooms was included on the tour so coaches could show off their latest accessories. Both players said many of the schools had the same goodies.

As much as Brigham loved Maryland's unconventional uniforms, they played absolutely no role in his decision. He had committed months before they were unveiled so, like Petersen said, it's difficult to judge just how much influence the new, flashy uniforms play in the recruiting process.

"I committed there because of the university and the atmosphere and the uniforms are a plus," Brigham said. "That's more of an afterthought. That wouldn't be one of the top reasons to choose that university but now that I have chosen them and they're doing this whole new line of uniforms, I think it's great."

Treggs said: "I'm pretty sure every kid cares. Everybody wants the top-of-the-line equipment and the best-looking uniforms."

As Arizona's assistant director of operations and on-campus recruiting coordinator, David Emerick said coaches never know what will, in the end, be the deciding factors for prospects.

Multiple recruits have told Emerick that Arizona's white helmets played a role, or that the color combinations the Wildcats use definitely stuck out to them. Others never mention anything at all.

"You never know what's going to influence a kid," Emerick said. "There are so many things out there and so many different kids and so many different personalities.

"Kids will be attracted to schools because of the school colors. They'll be attracted because we're a NIKE school. Some kids like NIKE, some kids prefer Under Armour, some kids prefer adidas. Those are all going to be factors. I don't know if they're going to be the deciding factors but it's going to increase their interest in a school."

And in recruiting, those tiny slivers of an advantage sometimes matter most.



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