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The small company behind college football's massive helmet craze

Maybe it's always been this way or maybe it's more of a recent phenomenon. Either way, there's no denying the world of football (especially college football) is officially uniform crazy. If you're a regular reader of this site, you're more aware of this than anyone. Yesterday we posted a video of coaches explaining the value of new uniforms in recruiting. Last week alone we posted uniform updates at more than a dozen schools, and that doesn't even encompass all the new uniforms that were debuted. 

At the center of every football uniform is the helmet. It's what subconsciously tells you what teams you're watching before your brain can even read the graphics at the bottom of the screen. And at the center of the helmet craze is one paint company in northwest Oregon.

As Mitch Sherman of ESPN RecruitingNation writes, Dave Gereb was just an employee of paint finishing company Hydro Graphics, Inc., trying to help his employer survive a struggling economy when he drove to Oregon State's equipment room in March of 2008. Gereb told Beavers equipment manager Steve McCoy that he worked for a company that dental chairs, beauty equipment and the like, and he would like to start painting Oregon State's football helmets. 

Soon, Oregon State began testing HGI's helmets and, before you knew it, Gereb's company was at the center of the industry. They painted Oregon's 2011 BCS National Championship helmets. They put frog skin on TCU's helmets. They put scratch marks on Cincinnati's helmets. They turned Notre Dame's helmets from gold to GOLD

"It was like, 'Oh, wow, this is amazing,' and they're in our own backyard," said Todd Van Horne, vice president and design director for Nike football. "They have all this technology. It's opened up different design opportunities and aesthetics, innovations that we can leverage and think about as we're designing what the full expression of that uniform is."

HGI counts 30 college programs among its clients, though football accounts for only a quarter of the company's business. And that original 130-mile round trip drive from Newberg to Corvallis paid off for Gereb, by the way. HGI provided the paint job for Oregon State's three helmets the Beavers will debut this season. 

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