Stickers on College Football Helmets

Have you ever watched a college football game and noticed a variety of decals adorning the players’ helmets?

If you’re a long-time American football fan, you might have an idea about what these helmet stickers mean.

But if you’re a newbie to the world of football, it might surprise you that those stickers are not just mere decorations or a player’s way of having fun and injecting a little personality into his shiny headgear.

Read on to find out what the little stickers on college football helmets truly mean.

Stickers on college football helmets, like skull and cross bone stickers. What does it mean?

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What do the stickers on college football helmets mean?

Just like ‘star’ stickers that are given to preschoolers in kindergarten, stickers on college football helmets serve as a form of positive reinforcement. Also called rewards decals or pride stickers, college football helmet stickers are a part of the institution’s rich history and tradition. They embody a player’s achievements during a game.

Coaches may award helmet stickers for team accomplishments or whenever an individual player shows excellence in academics or contributes significantly to the community. The more stickers a player has on the helmet means the greater the impact the player or the team has made on and off the field.

RELATED: Best Youth Football Helmet 2023

Pride stickers come in different colors, shapes, and patterns but they often reflect what the school or team is known for. Some colleges have stickers of different colors or designs to distinguish between defensive and offensive achievements or accomplishments related to the sport or academics.

How do football players get stickers on their helmets?

Colleges and universities have different criteria for awarding football helmet stickers. There are three ways a football player can receive reward stickers, i.e. for exceptional performance in-season, off-season, or inside the classroom. Below are some examples of what behavior or actions can earn a player a helmet sticker. Ultimately, it’s the coach that determines the criteria for the football helmet sticker reward system.

Offensive line ready to hike football on field

In-Season/On-Field Performance

Coaches give out stickers to football players who make outstanding plays during a game. These include scoring touchdowns, field goals, safety points, or two-point conversions. Players may also receive a sticker if they prevent the other team from scoring and win a ball possession.

For some colleges, winning a game alone merits every member a helmet sticker. If the team loses, it is still possible for some players to receive a sticker as long as they gave a remarkable effort or a game-changing performance.

Football helmet stickers may also be awarded to players or offense, defense, or special teams if they accomplish specific goals or meet a certain percentage of their target. For example, an entire defensive unit can earn a sticker if they force a set number of turnovers while an offensive unit can receive a sticker if they convert short-yardage situations. Special teams, like the block team, can get a helmet sticker if they score or prevent a fake attempt.

RELATED: Do QB Helmets Have Speakers?

Off-Season/Off-Field Performance

Some universities and colleges reward players even during the off-season. Often, a player receives a sticker for showing significant improvement during practice. Perfect attendance or exemplary behavior may also be part of the criteria.

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Academic Performance

Coaches need to monitor the performance of their players not only at game time or during drills, but also in class. If the player performs well academically, meaning he gets good grades, never misses a class, or does not come in late, then the player can get a helmet sticker.

Three college graduates holding certificates

History of college football helmet stickers

Ernie Biggs, a trainer for the Ohio State Buckeyes, is often credited to have started the tradition of rewarding football players with helmet stickers. During the championship campaign in 1968, Biggs gave out stickers to football players when they achieved goals in-game as a way of motivating them. Other colleges adopted the practice and created their own criteria for handing out reward stickers.

However, some claim that the practice was the brainchild of Jim Young, who was a former assistant coach at Miami University. His idea, which he came up with in 1965, was based on personal experience. Young was a WWII fighter pilot and he would decorate his plane with stickers every time he completed a mission successfully.

Which college teams put stickers on their helmets?

Some colleges that follow what Jim Young and Ernie Biggs started are:

  • Michigan State – White S sticker is placed on the right-hand side if the team wins; Spartan Spear/Javelin is awarded to a player for excellence or earning production points.
  • Florida State – Tomahawk sticker is awarded or taken away depending on how well or poor the player performs.
  • Stanford – Axe Blade sticker is also given when a player does well during practice games.
  • Clemson – Paw Print stickers, which replaced the former skull and crossbones stickers, are given in on-field accomplishments.

Other colleges, such as Georgia State (Panther, block “M”, or Gold Star), Mississippi State (Bulldog), UCLA (Blue Bear Paw), and Vanderbilt (Ship Anchor), chose to discontinue the use of football helmet stickers.

Leaves on a Buckeye tree

Why do Ohio State players have marijuana stickers on their helmets?

Thing is, it’s not weed.

Some people can either blame it on the designer of the decal or maybe others are just not familiar with it, but the symbol used on Ohio State’s pride sticker is the buckeye tree leaf. The buckeye tree is the state tree of Ohio and its leaves have a fan-shaped appearance, resembling that of a marijuana leaf. Because of the similarity, numerous incidents have been reported of Buckeye fans wearing Buckeye merchandise being stopped or questioned by authorities because the symbol is mistaken for weed.

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