Beyond the Jersey: Part III

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – When a photo of a pewter helmet with an interlocking "NC" found its way onto the Internet in early February, speculation exploded and ran rampant across the message board community. Will North Carolina be sporting a brand-new look when it takes the field against LSU on Sept. 4?

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.
Uniform topics are an odd phenomenon when it comes to message board discussion. Men may have problems matching socks or figuring out if they can wear brown shoes with a black belt, but when a photo emerged in early April on Twitter showing several new UNC uniforms, the forums transformed into an Alexander Julian fashion critique.

The stealth photo (pictured below) – Inside Carolina was not permitted to take photos of the prototypes on display in Butch Davis' office earlier this week – detailed three different uniforms. In addition to a standard look with a Carolina blue helmet, jersey and pants, there was the pewter helmet option with a white jersey, pewter pants and Carolina blue lettering and piping, as well as a white helmet option with a navy jersey, navy pants and Carolina blue lettering and piping.

So while Oregon boasts 384 game-day Nike choices, you can be assured that North Carolina's uniform possibilities extend beyond the three pictured.

"There's more than what you see," Davis told Inside Carolina on Monday. "There are more prototypes. Nike is always trying to push the envelope… They're always looking for ways to either do a throwback uniform or a complementary one maybe for homecoming."

Davis is the ultimate football CEO, as his fingerprints are evident on every part of UNC's program. So there's no wonder that the fourth-year Tar Heel head coach has played an active role in determining what his team wears on Saturdays in the fall.

"He's very hands on with Nike about designing things and coming up with new ideas," assistant equipment manager Jason Freeman said. "He did the same thing at Miami."

The first example of Davis' willingness to push the color boundary in Chapel Hill occurred 460 miles away in Piscataway, N.J. on Sept. 11, 2008. The Tar Heels defeated Rutgers, 44-12, in front of a Thursday night ESPN national audience wearing white jerseys and navy blue pants. The head coach upped the ante during last season's home Thursday night contest against Florida State on Oct. 2 as the Heels emerged from the locker room wearing navy blue jerseys and pants.

It's safe to say that the change in style went over quite well with the North Carolina roster.

"It was like you gave them keys to a brand new Ferrari," Freeman said. "They were so excited when they walked into the locker room. Especially at Rutgers, when we first broke out the navy pants. Nobody knew that we were going to wear those, so just to see how pumped up they were to wear those pants… If the fans could have only seen the looks on those kids' faces."

Davis indicated that Nike is continuously coming up with new uniform prototypes.

"We say, ‘Send them, let's take a look at them, let's get a feel for the administration. How do they feel about it? What do the players think about it?'" Davis said.

North Carolina wasn't the only ACC program to sport different looks in 2009. Miami wore all white uniforms against South Florida, while Florida State donned black helmets against Maryland in November. The Seminoles are rumored for a uniform makeover in '10, wearing a variety of different looks that include an all-white look with garnet lettering and piping.

Nike's Pro Combat series boasts new materials in the fabric and padding that will reportedly make the uniform 37 percent lighter than the previous design.

"We're always looking for new ideas, something to get the kids pumped up," Freeman said. "Not that they need that motivation, but it does stimulate interest and it obviously promotes your program. Even when you bring recruits in and show them the navy jersey, they're like, ‘Oh gosh, this thing looks so good.'"

There is one constant that will undoubtedly endure the Davis era – the current Tar Heel helmet.

"No matter what, we're going to keep the Carolina blue helmet," Freeman said. "Coach Davis loves the Carolina blue helmet. That's always going to be the helmet that we're going to wear… It's big for him to have that Carolina blue out there and have that recognizable color."

But one thing is for certain – fans have gotten ahead of themselves in thinking that the photographed prototypes are ready for public consumption this fall.

"No decisions have been made on any of the uniforms, and we may not do any of them," Davis said.

Freeman echoed his boss's sentiments, saying, "Nothing's set in stone. A lot of people are thinking, ‘They're going to wear the pewter helmet in this game and they're going to wear these pants.' But it's just prototypes and brainstorming that we're going through just to figure out what we want to wear this season, next season, five seasons from now."

Sources close to the program have informed Inside Carolina that there is very little chance UNC will take the Georgia Dome field against LSU wearing the pewter uniforms, due to administration disapproval.

But regardless of what uniforms the Tar Heels showcase against the Tigers, it's a good bet that Davis will garner national attention for his program at some point in '10 with a new look that keeps UNC on the cutting edge.

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