It all began a few weeks ago, when Uni Watch reader Ben Zoss sent me a link to an article about the quarterback at Springfield High School in Springfield, Ill. The quarterback, whose name is Rashad Rochelle, is apparently quite good (he’s going to Rutgers next year), but Zoss knew I’d be more interested in the team’s uniform — and, in particular, its helmet design.
The article was accompanied by several photos of Rochelle wearing a helmet unlike anything I’d ever seen before. It was black on one side and white on the other (sort of like Lokai and Bele in that old Star Trek episode), with contrast-colored striping tape running down the center.
I’ve been writing about uniforms for over two decades now and couldn’t recall ever seeing anything quite like Springfield’s half-and-half helmet. The closest things I could think of were the Jacksonville Jaguars’ disastrous “light and shadows” helmet, which they wore from 2013 through 2017, and the helmet that Navy wore in the 2012 and ’13 Army/Navy games, but the color breaks on those helmets went from front to back, not left to right.
Moreover, it’s one thing for an NFL team or a major college program to have the resources for a two-color helmet, but it was something else to see a high school going this route. Had there been some new breakthrough in helmet production or ornamentation that I was unaware of?
(Update: Shortly after this article’s publication, several readers pointed out an additional two-tone precedent that I had forgotten about: Notre Dame’s 2012 Shamrock Series helmet. Mea culpa!)
I was curious, so I began poking around on the internet and quickly found lots of additional photos of Springfield's helmet design.
It was such a striking look, I was surprised nobody had told me about it before. But the even bigger surprise was that I liked it — a lot. As most of you know by now, I’m often skeptical of new uniform developments, especially those that feel gimmicky. But the more I looked at the Springfield helmet, the more I liked it. For some reason the asymmetry didn’t bother me — the two distinctly colored helmet hemispheres achieved a nice yin/yang balance, and the helmet worked well with the rest of the uniform (at least for the uni combos shown in the photos I was able to find).
By this point I was officially intrigued, so I contacted Springfield football coach Roy Gully (who also teaches history at the school) and arranged to speak to him by Zoom. Here’s a transcript of our recent chat, edited for length and clarity.
Uni Watch: Your two-tone helmets are certainly unusual. How did that come about?
Roy Gully: That started last year. And the reason we didn’t go with just one dominant color was because we also ordered new jerseys for our Military Appreciation Day. And if we went with solid-white helmets, it didn’t really fit with that jersey design. If we went with red helmets, that didn’t fit either. Black probably would have fit, but black doesn’t necessarily look the greatest with some of our other uniform combinations. So I worked with my my Riddell rep, Brad Oster, and this is what we came up with through trial and error. I absolutely love the design, and it really does fit all of our uniform combinations.
Also, for full disclosure, another school near us, Edwardsville, was the first I saw with the two-tone. Theirs had different colors than ours, but we kind of took the idea from their two-tones. I don’t know if they still use it or not.
UW: You mentioned that you adopted this design last season. And last year, of course, there were so many race-related protests and sort of a racial reckoning in America. Was the half-white, half-black design intended to have any message in that regard?
RG: I would love to take credit for something like that. Maybe subconsciously I thought about it, but no, it was not a conscious decision to do that. But I do love that aspect of it.
UW: How does Riddell achieve the two-tone effect? Is the helmet shell actually white and then half-wrapped in black vinyl, or what?
RG: I don’t really know the process or how it works. But they do everything — the stickers and all that — before they send them to us, which is an extra charge but well worth the money.
UW: Did these helmets require more maintenance or touch-up than more conventional helmets?
RG: No. Actually, these require less maintenance because, like I said, Riddell sets up everything for us.
UW: Have opposing coaches said anything about your unusual design?
RG: Yeah, I’ve definitely had a couple coaches who’ve asked, “Hey, where’d you get that from?” Things like that.
Hmmmm. As soon as our call was done, I looked up Edwardsville High, the school whose two-tone helmet Gully had mentioned. They’re located about an hour south of Springfield. Sure enough, I found lots of photos of them wearing a half-black, half-orange design, with a white center stripe serving as a sort of DMZ between the two main colors.
You could certainly quibble with some aspects of those Edwardsville uniforms (black-on-black jersey numbers plus no TV numbers equals a spotter’s nightmare), but I actually like the helmets — even more so than the Springfield helmets, in fact.
Based on the photos I could find, it appeared that Edwardsville’s helmets were made by Schutt, which suggested that the two-tone thing wasn’t strictly a Riddell innovation. (Looking back at the Springfield photos, I saw that some of their players wore Schutt as well.) As far as I could tell, though, Edwardsville had worn the two-tone black/orange design only in 2019. I sent a note to their coach, Matt Martin, to learn more.
While I was waiting for Martin to get back to me, I contacted the Riddell sales rep Gully had mentioned, Brad Oster, and had a quick chat with him, as follows:
Uni Watch: So we know at least two schools have done the two-tone treatment — Edwardsville and Springfield. Do you know if other schools have done it? Is it a popular style in southern Illinois?
Brad Oster: It’s really not. In fact, I don’t think Edwardsville even does it anymore. So the only one I know of right now is Springfield High.
UW: Do you know of any other schools that wore this style? Do we know who was the first to wear it?
BO: I have no idea.
UW: How do you produce these half-and-half helmets? Like, do you start with a black shell and paint half of it, or do you wrap half of it with colored vinyl? How does it work?
BO: They’re painted shells. For Springfield, we start with a white shell, tape off half of the shell, and paint it black. And I believe we went back and painted the white side white as well, if I’m not mistaken, because I think it’s a white metallic.
UW: Was that so the two sides would have the same kind of finish? Equal status?
BO: Yeah. When you’re going with the plain, color-impregnated shell, it can have a different sheen, if you will. So this makes sure that both sides have the same sheen.
UW: Have you heard from any other schools who’ve seen Springfield’s helmets and said, “Hey, that’s pretty neat, we want to try that too”?
BO: We get lots of comments from coaches and other people. The big question a lot of people ask is, “How much does that cost?” And I explain that it does cost more.
UW: How much more?
BO: I’d rather not get into that here. But yeah, those helmets always seem to get some sort of comments. And, you know, I think that’s exactly what he [Coach Gully] was looking for, right? I think he was looking for something that was different, that would definitely stand out and make an impression. And they’ve definitely done that.
UW: The Springfield and Edwardsville helmets have the half-and-half treatment running on the left and the right, but could you just as easily do it for the front and back? Or even divide the shell into more than two segments, like four quadrants or something like that?
BO: Yeah. I mean, the limits in helmet decoration are getting more and more to the point where you can pretty much do anything you want. It’s just a question of whether you’re willing to pay for it.
UW: We’ve seen lots of trends in helmet design over the past decade or so, especially in college football — hydro-dipping, chrome finishes, all of that. Do you think two-tone could become a similar trend?
BO: I think it’s one of these deals where it depends on whether schools are willing to invest in that.
All very interesting! Shortly after that, I heard back via email from the Edwardsville coach, Matt Martin. He explained that they routinely come up with a new helmet design every year, so that’s why the two-tone design (which he called “a personal favorite”) was on the field for only one season. I asked if he’d ever seen another school, aside from Springfield, going half-and-half, and he said no.
So for now, the two-tone phenomenon appears to be extremely limited. Given the added expense, it seems unlikely that this would become a major trend at the high school level, but it’s not hard to envision a lot of NCAA schools doing it. And with the NFL lifting the one-shell rule next season, I could even imagine some pro teams tinkering with the two-tone look as an alternate design.
And honestly, I’d be okay with that — at least in theory. The two Illinois high schools have shown me that this approach can work. That doesn’t mean it will always work, or that it’s right for every team, but I’m officially intrigued and hope we see an NFL team give it a try. I really think this could be the next frontier in football helmet design.
Meanwhile, here are four codas to this story:
• First, while looking for photos, I found yet another Illinois school — Rochester High, located just outside of Springfield — that uses a two-tone helmet, although theirs is more similar to the old Jaguars design.
• Second, I noticed that Riddell also makes Springfield’s jerseys — with the Riddell maker’s mark positioned on the back collar, rather than the more common chest placement.
I mentioned to Oster, the Riddell rep, that I was pleasantly surprised to see a uniform manufacturer not trying to put its own brand on the same level as the team brand.
“I can’t speak to why we do it that way — that’s above my pay grade,” he said. “But as a uniform guy myself, it bothers me seeing the Nike swoosh on the front of Major League Baseball uniforms. I mean, I understand why they do it, but my feelings are more like yours.” Chalk up some bonus points for Riddell on this one.
• And finally, while not strictly uni-related, there’s this: While looking for Springfield photos, I noticed that they have a female kicker — Allison Langfelder.
I don’t follow high school football closely enough to know if having a girl on the team is common, so I asked Coach Gully about that.
“It’s been on the rise the last couple of years,” he said. “She’s one of my favorite players on the team. Our team has adopted her mentality and personality and made her a focal point — she is quite literally probably the most popular player on our team. So it’s been an absolute joy for us to have her.” (You can see an interview with Langfelder here.)
That’s a nice note to end on. Hope you’ve all enjoyed the trip down this rabbit hole as much as I have. Meanwhile, if anyone knows of other football teams with half-and-half helmet designs — I’m sure there are some I missed — let me know. Thanks!
(Big thanks to Ben Zoss for getting the ball rolling on this one by alerting me to Springfield’s unusual helmet design.)
Paul Lukas has been writing about uniforms for over 20 years. If you like his Bulletin articles, you’ll probably like his daily Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, check out his Uni Watch merchandise, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.