New football helmet designs have become so commonplace that they hardly warrant much attention anymore. But a new facemask design, of all things, has taken hold of the collective attention of the college football world.
The following picture of an Arizona helmet with the traditional block ‘A’ embedded in the facemask started circulating on Twitter on Sunday:
In the time since, it’s generated a whole lot of conversation.
“So far, it’s been polarizing,” said Alan MacFerran, the facemask’s designer and founder/owner of BadAss Masks. “People either love it or they don’t love it.”
The questions were plentiful. Where did it come from? Is it real?
Let’s start at the beginning. MacFerran made his first custom facemask last year for his son. That garnered some local attention — MacFerran lives in Memphis, Tenn. — and not long after, Florida State linebacker Nick Moody asked to have a mask made to wear in the East-West Shrine Game, a nationally televised showcase for NFL draft prospects. The request: something that would invoke the character Bane from the latest Batman movie.
“It came out pretty cool,” MacFerran said. “Then, when I put that up (on social media), it kinda took off.”
It was apparently that mask that caught the attention of an unnamed Arizona football player. That player contacted MacFerran about creating a custom mask, and at that point the two looped in UA director of football operations Matt Dudek. MacFerran and Dudek did some brainstorming and came up with four ideas that would be produced — as display models only.
“They’re (real facemasks), but they’re for display models,” MacFerran said. “That Arizona ‘A’ is not gonna be on the field.
“I did a scripted ‘Cats’ one and then I did a facemask that looked like fangs or a cat’s teeth for them. They have not come out yet, not publicized it, but I’ve been putting it on my Twitter feed. And this one just caught a lot of attention.”
The fourth mask has not yet been finalized.
Arizona confirmed that the helmets were not being considered for on-field use — not yet, anyway — with a spokesperson saying there was “no chance” of them seeing the field. But there has been no official statement on exactly what the helmets featuring the new facemasks will be used for. One possibility is prominent placement in the brand-new Lowell-Stevens Football Facility, which will open this year as part of a massive renovation project at Arizona Stadium.
“He wanted to be sure (Arizona) was the first university that was gonna do anything like this,” MacFerran said of his conversation with Dudek.
While on-field use would seem to be the logical next step in a college football landscape in which uniform ubiquity is considered the worst thing ever, one of the holdups is getting the facemasks certified by NOCSAE, the standard safety certifier for athletic equipment such as helmets. MacFerran said he is “in the process” of getting certification for his facemasks.
“The plan is to get them on the field, but gotta jump through hoops.”
But in the meantime, Arizona will have a potential recruiting tool that no other program can claim — yet. MacFerran said he has spoken to a few other major Division I programs about producing facemasks with custom designs, although between the schools’ equipment contracts with major helmet makers and the need for certification, there’s still some work to be done.
That said, MacFerran’s goal is to get his facemasks more widely distributed and on the field — both college and professional — in the near future.
“The more masks I get out there, the more leverage I might have,” MacFerran said of his discussions with teams. “We’re getting there. But (right now) we’re just a very small fish in our pond.”