Hair-Razing Experience

Penn State defensive end Gaines doubles as a barber for his teammates. But not all of the Nittany Lions trust his work with the clippers.

Few Penn State football players have been as versatile as Michael Robinson. During his Nittany Lion career (2002-05), he played quarterback, tailback, fullback, slot back, flanker, split end and punt returner, and even took a turn conducting the Blue Band following a win over Florida State in the 2006 Orange Bowl.

Robinson also served a role within the team that did not generate quite so much publicity. The owner of a set of electric clippers, he would often cut the hair of his teammates.

When Robinson was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the spring of 2006, he had to clear out his apartment in Happy Valley. So he put many of his personal items up for sale.

Josh Gaines, then a redshirt sophomore defensive end, was one of his first customers. Gaines spotted two things he liked — a futon, which was going for $100, and the hair clippers.

He paid for the futon.

“And I took the clippers,” Gaines said with a smile. “Tell you the truth, I don't think he knew that.”

Gaines had never cut anyone's hair before. And his first experience wasn't exactly an act of shear genius. If a referee had been present, Gaines might have been flagged for clipping.

“I started on myself,” he explained. “… I messed it up so bad, I was bald for a summer. My dad was my first customer.”

Defensive lineman Jared Odrick arrived on campus that summer, and the unknowing rookie was the first Nittany Lion who dared to let Gaines cut his hair.

“He was the first person outside of my dad,” Gaines said. “He became my test dummy.”

As Gaines improved, more and more teammates began coming to him for haircuts. Now he says he takes care of the entire defensive line, “but I don't charge, it's all love.”

He is also in a bit of a competition with another would-be barber on the team — quarterback Daryll Clark.

“Daryll is good, but he's not better than me,” Gaines said.

Senior receiver Derrick Williams is known as one of the more well-groomed Penn State players. So what is his take on all of this?

“I would not let either one of those guys touch me,” Williams said. “They could never in a million years touch my head. To me, both of them suck.”

Wiliams had a bad hair-cutting experience as a true freshman, when Robinson's friend, Matt Rice, took the clippers to his head.

“I said never again,” he recalled.

Center A.Q. Shipley has allowed Gaines to cut his hair a few times, and reports that the results were fine. When told of Williams' reluctance to go under the defensive end's clippers, he said, “You have to remember, Derrick is a pretty boy. He's very particular about everything.”

Gaines was discussing the hair-razing topic at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago last week. At a table nearby was the most famous head of hair in Penn State history — the wavy black and gray locks sitting atop the noggin of legendary Nittany Lion coach Joe Paterno.

Asked if he'd like to tackle that hairdo, Gaines demurred.

“I wouldn't touch Joe's head,” he said. “I might cut him bald. … He's too cute for me.”

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