If only the home team in football wore white.
It would be Nike on Nike on Aug. 29 at Maryville’s Shields Stadium when rival Alcoa visits for the 80th renewal of one of the state’s oldest rivalries.
Maryville became the state’s first Nike-sponsored high school earlier this year when Maryville City Schools approved a three-year contract with the Beaverton, Ore., sports apparel giant. The deal has the four-time defending Class 4A champion Rebels in new, high-tech black uniforms for home games this fall, white ones for away.
While no one was looking, Alcoa secured some Nike sponsorship of its own, reaching an agreement last October that has the four-time defending 2A champion Tornadoes in identical, home maroon gear.
The sponsorship allowed the Tornadoes to acquire the home uniforms — at no cost to the school — but not the road white. Alcoa purchased new white uniforms – also made by Nike — two years ago, but they’re nothing like what fans at Goddard Field will be seeing the Tornadoes in this fall, senior Chase James said.
“This is the most comfortable football uniform I’ve ever put on,” he said.
While the uniforms are identical, there are differences in the level of sponsorship each school secured. Maryville first purchased its home and away jerseys. Retail credits then enabled the Rebels to acquire virtually everything Nike produces for football — from practice uniforms, to running shorts and shirts, to shoes and socks — at a significantly reduced cost.
The contract Alcoa inked, through a Nike regional sales representative, includes, essentially, the home uniforms and shoes.
“We are considered a Nike team,” Alcoa assistant coach Jason Adams said. “Definitely, anything we get, it’s at a considerable discount.”
It’s just not the same deal Maryville got.
“It’s very similar to Maryville,” Adams said, “but it’s not identical. I want to stress that point. I can’t stress that point enough.”
As Maryville coach George Quarles and his staff had done with the Rebels, Alcoa coach Gary Rankin let the Tornadoes decide which particular Nike design the team would wear. Four players were directed to the company’s Web site and its uniform builder program over the winter and tasked with designing five options from Nike’s many combinations.
“They all had homework,” Adams said, “football homework. They all came back with five different ones. After they put their heads together, we all settled on this one.”
The end result is a football uniform long on science and short on nothing, Maryville junior Chris Jordan said.
“They’re real nice,” he said. “It’s tough to get them on at first. Once you’re in them, they’re petty flexible.”
Designed with such features as Portholes — meshed sections covering the abdomen and back to enhance ventilation — and a tapered, body-hugging fit, the jerseys are comprised of 78 percent nylon and 22 percent spandex. Described by one Maryville assistant as “a compression suit,” it takes some work to pull one over a set of shoulder pads. The matching bottoms have much the same air-tight fit.
Good form and wrapping up when tackling is going to be big for Alcoa and Maryville opponents this fall.
“People can’t be grabbing onto your jersey and stuff,” Tornado running back Jalik Toney said.
A snug fit withstanding, ease of movement is one of the uniforms biggest advantages, Alcoa linebacker Conner Miles said.
“It doesn’t restrict you at all,” he said.
The Rebels have practiced in the uniforms twice, Jordan said.
“It’s easy to cut in them,” he said.
Then there’s the part of the new uniforms that first made Nike famous.
The new jerseys and pants are great, Maryville senior Thomas Shuler said, but, when it comes to Nike, everybody knows it’s the shoes. It’s there that being a Nike team really pays off. The feel of his new cleats is like nothing he’s ever played in, Shuler said.
“They’re the most comfortable cleats I’ve ever worn in my life,” he said.
The advantages of the new uniforms and their modern, well-thought-out design are many. They look great. They feel great.
“They have you (the player) in mind,” Tornado senior Jeff Hickman said.
Plus, “It’s kind of cool to wear the same jersey as a big D-I school,” he added.
It’s hard not to like the new stuff, Adams said, but uniforms don’t win football games. It’s a deep Alcoa team that, like Maryville, will attempt to win an unprecedented fifth consecutive state crown this season. It’s also one, Adams said, that will have to work at it, like all the Tornado championship teams that have come before.
“Do the clothes, the name, make you a better person?” Adams asked. “No way. Does it make you a better player? Absolutely not.”
Quarles and Rankin are both taking that approach to the new uniforms. On picture day last week at Shields Stadium, Quarles looked on as a group of players took their place in line for individual photographs. The seven-time state championship coach was then asked: “What do you think of them?”
“What? The players?” Quarles quickly shot back.
Rankin was no different earlier this week. In fact, when it came time to order the new uniforms, he left it to Adams, who doubles as the team’s equipment manager.
“To tell you the truth, I haven’t seen them much,” Rankin said. “From a glance, they seem nice.”