Beyond the Jersey: Part II

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Long gone are the days when a football player took standard issue equipment to dress out for a ball game or practice. Today's athletes are custom-fitted to ensure safety and comfort with multiple options available to satisfy any specific demands.

Inside Carolina is providing an in-depth look at the inner workings of UNC's football equipment room in a multi-part series that focuses on routines, styles, options and possibilities for the future.
North Carolina's equipment staff utilizes a variety of shoulder pads, including brand names such as Impact, Gear and Williams. But assistant equipment manager Jason Freeman informed Inside Carolina that roughly 95 percent of UNC's football players wear Douglas or Riddell power pads.

"We can customize these pads for the players," Freeman said, noting that the turnaround time is only about a week. "So if they've got a bum shoulder or any injury that they may suffer throughout the season, we can call these companies up and they can customize these pads however we want them. If we need extra padding in the shoulder area or the chest, if we need a special rib protector made up or a back plate, they'll do it for us."

The pads are sized according to shoulder and chest measurements, with an emphasis on sternum, scapula and collarbone protection. As you might expect, fitting cornerback Kendric Burney at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds is a little different than suiting up offensive guard Travis Bond at 6-foot-7, 320 pounds. Not just in size, but in range of motion as well.

Pads: OL (top), QB (bottom)
"The shoulder pads you put on a quarterback you're not necessarily going to put on a defensive lineman," Freeman said. "With offensive lineman's pads, the shoulder area is secured down because they have no need to lift their arms up straight in the air. All of their movements are out in front of their body. A defensive lineman's shoulder pads aren't like that because they're doing a lot of swimming and ripping trying to get through the blocks."

After spring practice, the equipment staff strips down all of the shoulder pads and sends them back to the manufacturer to be checked and reconditioned for the following season.

Fitting helmets works in a similar fashion. North Carolina uses Riddell and Schutt helmets to protect its players' craniums. Beginning with the 2010 incoming freshman class, the Tar Heels will only be able to choose from three helmet options – Riddell Revolution, Riddell Speed or the Schutt Air XP.

The old school VSR-4 model will no longer be available for use at UNC, due to a National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) side-impact testing that will likely shine a negative light on the helmets.

"The VSR-4's are not going to pass the side-impact testing because what they've found is that a lot of guys are getting concussions from getting hit in the jaw area," Freeman said.

The newer model helmets are larger with a sporty look that the players have slowly embraced. The Riddell options have bladders inside the shell that can be pumped up to inflate the top, back and sides of the helmet for a snug fit.

Helmet models (left to right):
Speed, VSR4, Revolution
"You want the helmet to catch on the occipital bone so that it doesn't slide down and bop them on the nose," Freeman said.

The helmets are also sent back to be tested for damage and to be reconditioned. This is critical for safety as the players use the same helmets for both practice and games, as breaking in a helmet is similar to breaking in a pair of shoes.

The deep helmet cuts that Marvin Austin is known for and that most linemen acquire don't pose a problem as long as the shell is not damaged, which is checked each week by the equipment staff. They also double-check to make sure there is no rusted hardware and no metal showing on the facemasks.

But while North Carolina picks and chooses from various manufacturers in the pads and helmets categories, Nike reigns supreme when it comes to shoes.

Last season's game shoes become this year's practice shoes, but don't let that fool you – the equipment staff hands out at least six different styles of shoes to the roughly 115 players on the roster. There are practice cleats, game cleats, turf shoes for use at the indoor practice facility, game turf cleats that will be used against LSU in the Georgia Dome on Sept. 4, weight-lifting shoes, running shoes and flip flops for the shower.

When it comes to standard game cleat options, the only noticeable similarity is that the base colors are navy blue and white. Using navy instead of Carolina blue cuts down on Nike costs as a variety of teams – such as Penn State and Connecticut – can use the same line.

Different position groups wear different shoes, outlined on a Nike shoe chart the equipment staff utilizes to dress out the players. A lineman checking in north of 300 pounds will likely wear the Flyposite design, while receivers and defensive backs may opt for the Zoom Vapor Carbon Fly.

Speed 3/4 (top), Flyposite (bottom)
"Everybody wants to wear the smallest and the lightest shoe that's out there," Freeman said. "The Vapor Jet 4.2 is the lightest shoe that Nike makes, so the guys all want to wear the Vapors, but it's not designed for somebody that weighs over 225 pounds. The shoe's just going to break down."

Along with the Vapor, the SuperBad, SuperSpeed ¾ and Flyposite are the most popular amongst the Tar Heels and therefore represent the majority of orders that the staff place with Nike each spring. The various shoes differ between molded-bottom cleats or basic screw-ins that can be replaced.

The common denominator between pads, helmets and shoes is that they all exist for the players' protection. That's the ultimate bottom line.

Jerseys, on the other hand, are more about making a statement for the program.

(Check back tomorrow for Part III, as we look at future jersey possibilities ...)

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