Current Date: Mon, 10 Mar 2014 00:09:21 -0400
When North Carolina dismissed senior defensive tackle Marvin Austin from the team, it lost more than a high-profile NFL prospect.
Austin was the godfather of dreadlocks at UNC.
“He put dreads on the map here at UNC,” freshman defensive end Tim Jackson said. “Everybody knew him for his dreadlocks, so some of us gotta step up to the plate.”
Jackson estimated that about 13 of the nearly 100 players on UNC’s roster have dreadlocks. They come in different lengths and sizes, and some—such as sophomore center Jonathan Cooper’s—have blond-frosted tips.
Cooper colored his tips to set himself apart from others, especially a former offensive lineman.
“There was this guy (Kevin Bryant) here … and somehow I got confused with him daily,” Cooper said about why he colored the tips. “So I did that to differentiate myself.”
Offensive tackle Brennan Williams also has frosted tips, though his are dyed blond much higher.
“People say I look like Eddy Gordo from ‘Tekken,’” Williams said. “I don’t think they make me look tougher, I just like how they hang out of the back of the helmet.”
But the 6-foot-7-inch sophomore hasn’t always had dreadlocks.
“My grandmother is from Jamaica,” Williams said. “She wouldn’t let me get them for a long time because she wasn’t a big fan of Rastafarians. I guess because mine are kind of neat, she let it go.”
Most players with dreadlocks on the team have grown them out for years. Williams’ are just now long enough for him to be a pro.
“You’re an accomplished dread-locker when you can put it in a ponytail,” Williams said. “Before, I was a dreadlock apprentice.”
Other players have much longer dreadlocks than Williams, including tailback Johnny White. Each of the senior’s dreadlocks are about 17.6 inches long, and if stretched out one-by-one, they would cover an estimated 98 yards—almost the length of a football field.
White said he likes the style because it’s low maintenance.
“You really don’t have to do anything to them because once they lock up, they’re pretty much set,” he said.
“People that do my hair tell me I usually have the most hair they’ve messed with, so it takes a long time.”
Fortunately, White only has to endure that lengthy process about every two months, which is usually enough to maintain his dreadlocks.
“I’m going to go with Johnny White,” Jackson said when asked who had the best dreadlocks on the team. “They’re just nice and neat. He keeps them looking good all the time.”
But convenience isn’t their only appeal. Cooper said he likes the way his own dreadlocks look hanging out of his helmet, but if he wasn’t playing football, the sophomore said he probably wouldn’t have them.
“Honestly, outside of football, people will see the dreadlocks and stereotype you as, ‘Jock, maybe he’s mean, he’s this, that,’ but I feel like they shouldn’t,” Cooper said. “They should get to know me before they just look at my hair and make a snap judgment.”
When asked what he wants people to think when they see him, Cooper responded, “Scholar-athlete.”
Cooper isn’t the only football player who likes how dreadlocks look under a helmet. It’s a very popular look, especially among running backs. And they seem to be more commonly worn by playmakers: nine of the top 30 NFL rushers this season have dreadlocks.
They are clearly a commitment, as dreadlocks take years to grow. But once they’re locked in, most players keep them for years. And with so many successful players sporting dreadlocks, it’s just one more reason to keep the look.
“My girlfriend wants me to cut my hair, and I always use the Samson excuse,” Williams said. “I say, ‘Delilah made Samson cut his hair, and then he sucked after that.’”
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