Football: Douglas helmet sticker tradition goes back over 40 years
The Douglas Tiger football program is steeped in tradition.
Former coach Walt Powers (father to University of Nevada baseball coach Gary Powers) brought Friday night football to Northern Nevada (Sept. 27, 1946 vs. Lovelock) after organizing community members to go out to Hope Valley to cut down trees to serve as light poles.
The program is believed to be the first in the region to celebrate “Senior Night”, honoring its senior players before their final home game.
For as long as anyone can remember, fans have stood up before every kickoff.
Players gather after every game around the “Rock of India,” which was installed behind the south end zone on Oct. 2, 1990. Coach Mike Rippee says the boulder is a symbol of team solidarity and toughness.
“When you touch that rock,” he says, “You’re buying into everything this program represents.”
The school has worn black helmets for the last 41 years.
But, since the early ’70s, those helmets have gotten decidedly more orange as each season has progressed.
Former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes and his head trainer, Ernie Biggs, devised the idea of helmet stickers, or “pride” stickers in 1968. Players were awarded white “Buckeye” stickers to adorn their silver helmets for instances of exceptional performance.
It wasn’t long after that Douglas High became one of the first programs in Northern Nevada to emulate the practice – with former coach Bill Coverley passing out football and star stickers for hustle plays, game-changing efforts and big hits.
The practice didn’t go unnoticed by Tiger opponents – particularly a young quarterback back from Yerington High by the name of Rippee.
“That’s the first time I’d ever seen it at the high school level,” Rippee said. “Coach Coverley was a great motivator and a great coach – the best one this school has ever had. I’ve stolen a number of things from him and the helmet stickers was one of them.
“As a player, I always felt like my hat was the most important thing. I really felt like a football player once I put that lid on. To decorate that up, to be awarded for a big play, that’s something that resonated with me.”
So when Rippee took over the Tiger football program in 1985, he stuck with handing out the weekly awards to his players.
“Tradition gives you strength to build on,” Rippee said. “It’s something you look to and know that you aren’t the first ones to go through this. You’re playing for any number of the great players who have come through the program.
“The kids today are putting basically the same stickers on their helmets that the players were 20 years ago. I like that part of it. That’s why I kept it up. Every time I pass the stickers out, I think of Coach Coverley and the great career he had here.”
The helmet sticker tradition, though, has evolved a bit over the years.
“We started out with just Tiger paws, because it was a miniature design of our main emblem on the helmets,” Rippee said. “As time went on, there were more things I wanted to recognize the kids for, so I brought in a variety of other stickers.”
While nearly every Northern 4A team now awards some form of helmet sticker (excluding Spanish Springs, Manogue and North Valleys), Douglas High has perhaps the most elaborate practice.
In total, Rippee now awards 11 different stickers, which can make for a crowded helmet by season’s end with the interlocking “DT” decals, American flag and player numerals also a staple on each player’s hat.
“I’ve had coaches say we’re focusing too much on the individual, but that’s why in the last five or six years we’ve added ‘team’ distinctions,” Rippee said. “The kids like it. They take pride in it. I hope they do, because that’s what it’s meant to be.”
The team award, represented by an orange tiger head, is actually the most common one that Rippee passes out.
It’s given to every player on the field for key goals during a game. For example, the kickoff team receives a sticker for each tackle inside the 20-yard line. The kick return team gets a sticker for returns past the 35 and the punt return team is rewarded for returns of more than 20 yards.
Every field goal made reaps a sticker for everyone on the kick team, as does 100 percent on PAT attempts.
“People think that’s an easy thing (kicking field goals),” Rippee said. “It’s a united effort, get the snap right, getting it down, getting the right blocks. Those are hard points to put on the board, and I reward the guys for getting them.”
Similarly, the offensive line gets a team award for every game they don’t allow a sack, and for every 100-yard rusher they produce.
“We give team stickers for a successful first drive of the second half, whether and offensive score or a defensive stop, because we place a great deal of importance on how we come out of the locker room,” Rippee said. “We award for goal-line stands, defense making a stop on fourth down and offense converting a fourth down.”
The tiger paw represents the basic individual award, given for plays where a player shows extraordinary heart or effort.
“It’s things like maintaining a block for five yards or more, or a running back who picks up a good chunk of yardage after initial contact where they probably could’ve just gone down,” Rippee said. “It’s a guard pulling to make a beautiful trap block where he really has to take a guy on or a defensive lineman who eats up two blocks in the middle and allows a teammate to make the tackle. It’s plays where guys do what we ask them to do to the best of their abilities.”
Rippee has added self-explanatory awards over the years like footballs reading “INT” for interceptions, “TD” for touchdowns scored and “SACK” for tackling quarterbacks behind the line of scrimmage.
He awards a starburst “Big Play” sticker for game-changing or momentum-swinging plays. He used senior wide receiver Nate VonAhsen’s diving touchdown catch against Damonte Ranch just before halftime three weeks ago as an example.
“I don’t give a big play if you have a 10-foot hole and you run 50 yards for a touchdown,” Rippee said.
“You don’t get one for just catching the ball when you are open. It’s stepping up and changing the game. I’m talking about forcing a fumble or recovering a fumble or making a big catch under coverage on third down. It’s going above and beyond to help your team win the game.”
He’s added a trio of awards for efforts that can’t generally be recognized on the stat sheet, recognizing solid blocks and big hits.
He awards an orange sledgehammer for a knockdown – when a player knocks an opponent down on a cutback block, or running over a would-be blocker on kick coverage. Rippee said he awards it for tackles where a player simply gets the best of his opponent for an open-field tackle.
Rippee gives an orange stack of pancakes – complete with butter and syrup – for the proverbial “pancake” block, when a player engages one-on-one with an opponent and eventually puts the opponent on his back.
“It’s an offensive line award, but I’ve given it to some receivers this year when they take on a defensive back and stick with him until he’s on his back,” Rippee said.
The third of the hitting/blocking awards, the orange skull and crossbones, is by far the rarest to earn.
In fact, heading into last week’s game against Galena, Rippee had only handed out three stickers, two of which went to senior safety Connor Hughes (senior cornerback Ben Khongkhatitham won the other).
“It’s the ultimate hit,” Rippee said. “I’m looking for a clean hit, no cheap shots, where a guy goes eye-to-eye, nose-to-nose with his opponent and knocks him off his feet. I’m looking for feet coming up in the air. The guy has to be looking at you. I don’t give many of these out.”
Rippee awards an orange stripe near the end of the season to players he deems Tiger Strikers.
“We usually do it the last game of the regular season,” Rippee said. “We used to do it for the Carson game, whenever that was, but we scaled it back to the end of the year, because we really want to see who you are over the course of a season.
“A Tiger Striker is a guy who consistently plays well and above what you’d think. It’s a guy that never quits and always gives 100 percent. First guys we look at are the ones who play on both sides of the ball. You have to be a good student, can’t have been ineligible for any reason during the year. It comes down to your effort on the field in games, in practice and during the offseason. It’s about your commitment to the program.”
For last week’s regular-season finale against Galena, Hughes, VonAhsen, senior defensive end/tight end Trevor Shaffer and senior wide receiver/defensive back Nick Maestretti debuted as this season’s first four honorees.
“The hope is that you move on in the playoffs and continue to award strikers,” Rippee said. “They are impact players who represent what this program is about.”
This year, Rippee started a new sticker tradition much in the mold of Fresno State’s green “V” that was initially put on the back of its helmets to signify the school’s commitment to recruiting from within the San Joaquin Valley and representing the Valley.
For the Tigers, Rippee was looking for a way to signify the program’s commitment to offseason conditioning.
“When I first got here, I started the weight program and it went twice a day on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during the summer,” Rippee said. “We used to get maybe eight or nine guys in.
“So I started the Iron Tiger Club, which essentially was just an attendance club. If you showed up so many days during the summer, you were part of the Iron Tigers.”
Former quarterback George Streeter (1991-92) came up with an armored tiger that adorned T-shirts and sweatshirts for the club.
“George was a fantastic artist and he came up with the design,” Rippee said. “We used it on our shirts and it came to represent the club.”
Over time, though, as Douglas started to see more success and start winning some games, nearly anyone who was planning to play on varsity attended the weight program throughout the summer.
“Iron Tigers became less exclusive of an award and we kind of fell away from it,” Rippee said. “I was looking at it this year, just thinking of a way to jump-start the commitment to the weight program.
“Weights are important in all sports, but especially in ours. We noticed over the last several years that guys just weren’t as motivated at the end of the summer to be getting in there and performing their best in the weight room heading into the season. We wanted them to be increasing their intensity, not cutting it back.”
So Rippee came up with a new Iron Tiger award.
The program performs max testing three times a year – once at the beginning of the second semester for the new varsity group as a baseline, once at the end of the school year and once at the beginning of August heading into the season – on four platforms: bench press, hang clean, squat and Tiger Run (a series of back-to-back sprints including three 300-yard shuttle runs and a 400-yard lap around the track).
“To get into the new Iron Tiger club, I wanted guys to max in all four disciplines during our August testing,” Rippee said. “You have to have the attendance during the summer and you have to have personal bests in each of the four tests. You have to have a previous max in the program, meaning you can’t have moved into the area over the summer. You have to work hard and show you’ll continue to work hard.”
Members of the new club received Streeter’s armored tiger in decal form to place on the backs of their helmets.
“I had George’s design left in my files and I pulled it out and had my decals guys make a sticker out of it,” Rippee said. “Took them a little while to get it the way I wanted it, but when they got it to me, I though it looked real nice.
“Fresno State does their ‘V’ on the back and I thought that would be the perfect place to put it.”
Twelve members of this year’s squad received the award.
“It’s a tough one to get,” Rippee said. “We had 25 or 26 guys that were really close. But it has to be exclusive. It’s a motivational thing.
“I’ll give you an example, Nick Maestretti broke the school record in the Tiger run (3 minutes, 27 seconds) heading into the summer and that was the only thing he didn’t PR in heading into the fall. That’s a tough deal. It’s hard to PR when you’ve already broken the school record. But we set up the requirements and stuck with them.
“Connor Hughes and Trevor Shaffer are two other guys who were really, really close. But it has to be exclusive. Hopefully we can build on that and continue to motivate kids to work hard.
“For us the weights are so important and so much time is spent there to get in shape,” Rippee said. “We wanted another way to recognize the effort in there.”
Rippee awards the stickers weekly on the day prior to gameday. That in itself has become tradition.
“We take the team out to the Rock,” he said. “That’s where we come together as a team. The rock signifies solidarity and effort and buying into what we want to do. I stole that idea from Clemson, but I didn’t expect it to be the size it was.
“But I liked the idea of you touch the rock if you are going to give everything you’ve got. It represents the team, the program.
“We go there to do the awards and its a time for the kids to decompress a little before every game and I get to recognize them for their achievements. I like the tradition, and hopefully when I’m gone someone sees fit to carry it on.”
Joey Crandall can be reached at (775) 782-5121, ext. 212.