DUNEDIN — Dunedin High football coach Max Smith walked around school with just about the prettiest thing any of his football players had ever seen tucked under his arm.
Boys and girls, they stared.
Teachers, they gawked.
Smith, he just smiled.
Where he went, it went. His classroom, the weight room, the lunchroom. Smith took his black beauty everywhere and set it out for everyone to see.
Touch it? Sure, go ahead.
But if you want to wear it, to put it on your head and run around and look like a college football player, to do that you would have to join the Falcons’ football team.
To common folk, it was just a football helmet.
The players, I believe, call it swag.
First of all, let me apologize, at my age and state of swagless being, for using the word swag, swagoo, fashoo, Scooby-Doo or whatever the kids are calling it these days.
But as I understand it from eavesdropping on kids via Twitter, swag is, other than dreadfully overused, something like style and attitude.
The new Dunedin football helmet?
Style and attitude. Swag.
Flat black matte finish, a red Old English “D” on the side and right down the middle, the kicker: a tartan stripe, a nod to the Scottish heritage of Dunedin.
While the stripe might leave a little something to be desired — it reminds me too much a Catholic school uniform, which reminds me of Catholic school, which reminds me of Sister Elizabeth’s ruler, and I’ll stop right there — let’s face it, Smith had his players at “black matte”.
“That’s all the kids talked about was the black matte helmets they saw on television,” Smith said. “And with the stripe, we wanted something that was unique to our school, something that only we could have.”
The stripe, love it or hate it, fits right in with the Dunedin Highlander band, clad in kilts and sporrans and bagpipes. Synergy!
But more important: Energy!
Smith is no different than any other coach in Tampa Bay facing declining numbers or waning interest. You don’t wait for the kids to come to you, you go to the kids.
Building a winner may take a village, but a flashy accessory doesn’t hurt.
“I was trying to create some excitement and some buzz,” said Smith, who thinks he also attracted about 10 new players to the program.
Will the helmet win any games?
Of course not.
“It’s just one piece of the puzzle,’’ Smith said.
Some would say a very important piece. In a story he wrote for Grantland.com, Tampa Bay Times staff writer Michael Kruse credited the now infamous Oregon uniforms for setting the Ducks off into full BCS flight.
The uniforms, he quoted experts as saying, were a key ingredient in creating a personality. Designers were tasked with creating something so cool, so eye popping, that Oregon would be a popular destination for talented teenage football players.
On a smaller scale, Smith is hoping for the same.
A one-time powerhouse that played in consecutive state championship games in 1984 and ’85, Dunedin hired Smith as the third coach in three years last spring.
After a few key players abandoned a program that had won three times in two previous season, he was left with low numbers and morale. Cobbling together a roster, he somehow won four games, four more than many thought he’d win.
He needed to keep it going. So the kids raised the money for the new helmets by washing cars, something Smith said they were much more amenable to than, say, scrubbing rims for a new blocking sled.
Dixie Hollins is going black, too. Coach Mike Morey was having similar discussions with his staff on how to build excitement, and they just happened to meet in the middle of bowl season, which was punctuated by crazy uniforms and most noticeably, really cool football helmets.
So Morey sent Dixie’s helmets in for re-finishing. And didn’t tell his players until unveiling them in February.
The reaction was exactly what he hoped.
“I don’t know if it got any more kids out because of the helmets, but I know it excited the kids that we did have,” he said.
This spring, the rising junior and senior Rebels have been practicing in the new helmets, still plain though soon they will be adorned by the Duke “D” on the side. The freshmen and sophomores have to earn theirs this month.
“These guys all want to look big time,” Morey said. “Every day they come up to me and ask when the decals are coming in.”
New football helmets are nothing new. Plant redesigned it’s logo to give its helmets some more oomph, and some guys, like Clearwater Central Catholic’s John Davis, tend to change the helmet everywhere they go.
At Osceola, Davis put a spear on the side.
At CCC, he took the red helmet — “it looked like a big tomato” — and added Michigan wings.
At Countryside, he changed it to gold, so his uniforms looked more like FSU’s.
“I’m a big proponent of it,” Davis said. “It puts a stamp on the program. And the kids love it.’’
Smith isn’t sure where the new helmets will take his Dunedin program. He’d like a few 6-foot-4, 300-pound kids walking his hallways to decide they want to wear one in the worst way. But he’ll settle for a few extra players, anything to avoid playing kids both ways.
Wherever the Falcons fly this season, though, one thing is certain — they will look good getting there.
John C. Cotey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.