By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Maybe it’s the beards being worn this season by the Boston Red Sox or the mustaches which were donned by Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s of 1972, led by Rollie Finger’s handlebar, but hair – be it facial or atop one’s head – has long been as much a part of image of athletes as the number on his back.
West Virginia University receiver Kevin White and his dreadlocks is no different.
True, he doesn’t have his hair insured for $1 million, as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Troy Polamalu did with his long, curly locks, and he does not possess an afro as overblown as the one Oscar Gamble had once under his New York Yankees baseball cap.
He isn’t in it for the shock value, like Dennis Rodman, who once showed up with hair dyed orange and a black Bulls’ insignia dyed into the back, or former Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan, who gave up his normal style one season in favor of a blond, closely cropped dye job with the image of his native Hawaiian Islands dyed on the side in black.
“This was just one of those opportunities I could let everyone know that I’m not getting too caught up in the hype. I still have no problem humiliating myself,” Brennan said at the time.
Kevin White’s choice of hairstyle, dreads that run far down his back, isn’t in it to make a statement or for the image it creates.
He is hoping his image is of a tall receiver hauling in deep passes for the Mountaineers, as he did against Baylor two weeks ago, catching seven passes for 130 yards.
The dreads? Just a part of him for a long time.
“Sixth grade,” he said with a small smile overtaking the straight face he was trying to keep as he revealed the last time he’d gotten his hair cut.
The dreads that he wore through high school in Pennsylvania and Lackawanna (Pa.) Junior College didn’t come until his sophomore year.
“I had braids at first. I wanted to cut my hair, but my mom said I looked like a fourth-grader in eighth grade. I remember that,” he explained. “I said, I guess I’ll get dreads and she said it was all right.”
White says there’s statement in the hairstyle.
“It’s just me,” he said.
And, as exotic as dreads may look, he finds them quite convenient.
“I just wake up and go,” he said. “I have to fix them once a month … maybe.”
Considering the load you carry as a student and a football player, it doesn’t hurt to save some time, even if you do have to wear a helmet about a size larger than you would if the hair were closely cropped.
There is, however, a painful side to the dreadlocks.
“It irritates me sometimes when guys pull my hair,” he said. “I haven’t gotten tackled by my hair yet, but I got yanked a few times and it hurts.’
To make matters worse, there’s never been a flag dropped for that happening.
“It should be holding, but I’m not sure that it is,” he said.
Perhaps athletic director Oliver Luck, who seems to be on every committee the NCAA can create, can get the rules committee to put in a 15-yard penalty for “hair pulling.”
The way this season has progressed, it seems you will be seeing more and more of Kevin White.
He came into the program with the coaches thinking he could fill the role Stedman Bailey played a year ago, a deep threat to complement the screens and short passes that flourish in coach Dana Holgorsen’s system.
At 6-3, 215 pounds, he had size, but he is just now figuring out how to use his physical assets.
”On fade balls, pressed in the corner, I’m figuring out I’m able to push them. I really don’t do that much because I think I’m going to get a flag and I don’t like a flag. Coaches tell me to be physical,” he said.
It was a part of his game he never needed before.
“I just never used my body. I never had to because I outplayed them … but now the coaches want me to use my body more to create more plays.”
That, he understands, is necessary as he has moved into big-time college football.
“Everyone is good at this level. I’m not going to be able to do what I used to do at high school and junior college. I have to have better technique and be better and play ball,” he said.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.