Fresno State players didn't believe it was true.
We are talking Bulldogs, right?
Even after a prototype model was shown to Bulldogs recruits last winter, along with a couple of photos of other new uniform designs in the works, players wondered if Fresno State was just teasing prospective players. Others who were a little more optimistic wondered if they'd actually get to wear the uniforms themselves before their playing days were over.
This was Fresno State, after all, a football program that seemed adamant about not deviating from its traditional red-and-white look.
"I've been around Fresno State football for so long. The school's always been so traditional, very old-school," said Fresno State senior Nikko Motta, who is from Sanger. "When you think of Fresno State, you think of the red helmet, red pants, red jerseys, sometimes white jerseys.
"That's all we ever knew, forever. When we started hearing we might have black helmets and jerseys, we were all excited. But we weren't sure if it'd actually happen."
Who could blame them?
With Oregon leading the trend, the rest of college football began stocking their programs with multiple alternate uniforms the past 10 years. Fresno State took the opposite path and tried to stick with a consistent, traditional look.
From 1997-2010, the most significant modification to Fresno State's uniforms was eliminating "Fresno State" across the front of the jersey to go with a plain look (done in 1999) and introducing the small Green V symbol on the Bulldogs' chest (2006).
That was under former coach Pat Hill. Just prior to Hill's debut, though, Fresno State did scrap the helmet decal that said "Bulldogs" in script font for the Bulldogs mascot.
During Hill's final season two years ago, Fresno State made some modifications and unveiled new uniforms, but still maintained the red and white look. The most radical change was the addition of a blue stripe on the red helmet.
But just as Fresno State's offensive and defensive systems have drastically changed since coach Tim DeRuyter took over following the 2011 season — veering from the old school, pro-style offense to a no-huddle spread — so has the Bulldogs' attire.
Fresno State Senior Associate Athletic Director Paul Ladwig approached DeRuyter during the offseason about going with an alternate look for at least one game.
DeRuyter didn't need to be coaxed. He knew new jerseys and helmets probably would appeal to prospective recruits, and he agreed eagerly.
But where would Fresno State get the money? The football team's budget was just enough to upkeep the red and white uniforms annually, and replace one of the uniform sets at the end of each season. So Ladwig came up with a plan to finance the $50,000 for the black uniforms out of his external athletics department budget, which primarily has been used for promotional giveaways.
All the money would be recouped by selling the all-black uniforms at the end of the season. Players have first dibs whether they want to buy their jerseys, and/or helmet. Green V Foundation members have second pick to buy the all-black uniforms. After that, the public can purchase any leftovers at the Bulldog Shop.
But more importantly, the all-black uniforms have augmented the merchandise that Fresno State sells, including black game day shirts, mini black helmets and black sweaters. As part of No. 16 Fresno State (7-0, Mountain West) unveiling its all-black uniform Saturday against Nevada (3-5, 2-3), fans are encouraged to wear black as well to the game.
Ladwig said he didn't know how much revenue the black uniforms have created, but he added that it should be "significant."
The all-black theme also has helped Fresno State sell out Bulldog Stadium for the second time this season, with all 41,031 tickets sold by midday Tuesday for the fastest sellout in school history since the stadium expanded from 30,000 in 1991.
"We can't kept that stuff on the shelves," Ladwig said. "It's been a great move for us financially. The community has responded well to the new look. It's different and exciting. Our fans also seem to like the different themes we've had for each game.
"I think the Blackout game has been our most popular."
DeRuyter and his staff also will wear black, either a black sweater or black hooded sweatshirt.
"It's mostly for our players and our fans; they all get excited for this kind of stuff," DeRuyter said. "But it's hard not to get into it too when there's a buzz going around about the all-black uniforms. I'm looking forward to wearing my black sweater."
Fresno State players wore the all-black uniforms last month for the team photo (with name plates on the back of the jerseys but without any helmet decals).
Immediately after the photo shoot, the uniforms were locked back up and stored by Fresno State's head equipment coordinator, Mark Younger. Players, however, were allowed to wear the black helmet five times before Saturday to help break in the new head gear.
"It's a little snug, but they look nice," said defensive tackle Tyeler Davison. "We're just excited to wear the all-black unis and see the Red Wave turn into the Black Wave."
Younger added the finishing touches to the uniforms Wednesday and Thursday, precisely applying the thick, red stripe down the middle of the helmet as well as a logo of a big Bulldogs face on one side.
Younger has been involved with the alternate uniform design from the start, devising six all-black Nike Combat uniform options before other Fresno State officials, including DeRuyter, offered some modifications. The biggest debate turned out to be what type of side logos to place on the helmet: the tradition four-paw Bulldog or the big face.
Younger, who has the longest tenure in the athletic department, having been at Fresno State since 1992, said he was happy with the final decision and how the black uniforms came out.
But, it's still taken some adjustment to his eyes.
"It's just so different from what we've always done, going all black" Younger said. "But it's fun. We've come a long way in terms of the things Fresno State provides. I think everyone's excited to try something different."
Following Saturday's game, Fresno State will keep the black uniforms until the bowl game. There's a chance the Bulldogs might wear the black uniforms one more time, Ladwig said. Team captains decide which uniforms are worn on a weekly basis.
Then, after the bowl game, the game-worn uniforms will be sent to those who purchase the attire.
Bulldogs receiver Davante Adams, who was the first player to model the all-black uniforms, vouched for those thinking about buying the uniform.
"The black jerseys and helmets are sweet," Adams said. "Everyone's going to like them. We believe in the old saying that if you look good, you feel good. And if you feel good, you play good.
"I always wished we'd get alternate looks, just never thought it'd happen. We can't wait to show off those black uniforms."
NO. 16 FRESNO STATE VS. NEVADA
Saturday: 7:30 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
Records: Bulldogs 7-0, 4-0 Mountain West; Wolf Pack 3-5, 2-3
Radio: KFIG (AM 940); KGST (AM 1600)
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