Helmet Craze

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – For the second straight week, North Carolina will wear a unique helmet on Saturday, signaling a dramatic change in the University's approach to marketing its football program.

During the spring of 2010, photos leaked of a trio of UNC helmets that set message boards ablaze – alongside the traditional Carolina blue design, a white helmet with a blue interlocking "NC" and a pewter version, also with a blue interlocking logo, were displayed in former head coach Butch Davis's office.

While the new looks drew recruit and fan attention, sources informed InsideCarolina.com at the time that the alternative options were not in play due to administration disapproval.

Two-and-a-half years later, fresh leadership both in the athletic department and football program have latched on to the uniform craze that Oregon ignited roughly 15 years ago, courtesy of Nike.

Against Idaho, North Carolina sported Carolina blue helmets with the American flag inserted into the interlocking "NC" logo. On Saturday, UNC will don a white helmet for the first time since the 1960s for the "White Out" promotion against Virginia Tech.

Head coach Larry Fedora didn't hesitate to acknowledge the recruiting value of the decision on Monday.

"Oregon has already proved that that's a recruiting tool and now you've got Maryland with Under Armour on this side of the country trying to do the same thing, so everybody is doing it," Fedora told reporters during his weekly press conference. "That's why you watch Nebraska and Wisconsin the other day and you got the big ‘W' and the big ‘N' on the front of the jerseys and the retro [look], so everybody is doing it. It just adds to the game. I think it's fun. I think the players enjoy it and I know the fans do."

There's little doubt that the recruiting angle is legitimate. Oregon's LaMichael James offered his now infamous statement prior to the 2010 Rose Bowl about why he chose Chip Kelly's Ducks: "I loved the uniforms and then I got to know more about Oregon."

The helmet changes also play well in the Tar Heel locker room.

"It's probably the biggest thing of the week, honestly," quarterback Bryn Renner said. "As kids growing up, we always saw the jerseys that we wanted to wear. Just going into the locker room and seeing something new is a big energy booster. I don't think the fans really know how much it means for us to wear a different helmet. We wear it with pride."

Sophomore tailback Gio Bernard believes the new helmets are just one part of an evolving program change that Fedora has instituted in Chapel Hill.

"We're excited to have this new feeling around here," Bernard said. "This is what it's been this entire season, this new system… Coach Fedora has brought everything in and he's done a great job of it. We just want to make him proud.

"With these new helmets, I guess it's a treat for us… It's something that we really like and like to do. We're excited for it this weekend."

There won't be any jersey changes this season due to the fact that UNC placed its uniform order with Nike last November, several weeks before Fedora was hired. The 2013 season, however, could provide for some interesting changes to the Tar Heels' traditional look.

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