How Utah's hand-painted football helmets honoring Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe were made

How Utah’s hand-painted football helmets honoring Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe were made

The Utes will wear them when they face the USC Trojans on Saturday.

(Armando Villarreal) The custom helmets honoring the late Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe that the Utah Utes football team will wear Saturday against USC.

Longtime Utah Utes football fan Travis Vallejo stopped what he was doing when the football team revealed the helmets for Saturday’s game against No. 6 USC He was so filled with emotion that he needed to regain his composure.

“It suffocates me,” Vallejo said. “It’s deep.”

The hand-painted helmets feature airbrush paintings of late Utes players Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe, who died almost exactly one year after gunshot wounds. This is just one of the ways the University of Utah honors their memory.

The man who painted the helmets, Armando Villarreal, feels the sentiment coming from fans like Vallejo, as well as the university as a whole. He began to understand what Jordan and Lowe meant to the team when he attended an Utes game last season where his military appreciation helmets were worn by the players.

“I don’t think it would have meant so much to me personally if I hadn’t been able to see and experience that game,” Villarreal said.

Once Villarreal had the parameters for the project, they knew it would be an intense undertaking – even more so than normal. His wife, Lora, helped out as usual. But this time he asked his 12-year-old son and a few friends to participate where they could.

Along with the painted faces of Jordan and Lowe, the helmets have a white stripe with a red and black border down the middle of the helmet, and a heart-shaped No. 22 logo on the back. The dotted white background displayed in the black portion of the helmet matches the Moment of Loudness fans have after third quarters of football games, where they cheer and wave their cellphone flashlights.

Villarreal used two photos of Jordan and Lowe to recreate the airbrush painting. Jordan’s is from when he runs for a touchdown while watching himself on the big screen. Lowe’s photo is from a practice.

Villarreal said he felt “a ton of weight” to make the helmets as perfect as possible because of what Jordan and Lowe meant to the Utes program.

“I just hope everyone likes this helmet,” Villarreal said. “It’s one of those things that no matter how much time I put into it, doesn’t seem like it’s good enough for these two kids and the fans. But hopefully it’s good enough. .

(Armando Villarreal) A progress photo of the custom helmets honoring the late Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe that the Utah Utes football team will wear Saturday against USC.

The helmets are a tangible reminder of how the university honors the memory of Lowe and Jordan. He started a scholarship in Jordan’s honor before Lowe’s death, and now he honors them both. Auxiliary running back Ja’Quinden Jackson received the scholarship earlier this year.

Jackson said the team’s equipment manager showed him a preview of the helmets several months ago and he was excited to wear them.

“I feel like they’re with us,” Jackson said. “So having them on the helmet is a plus for me. I’m going to introduce myself.”

Coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged that helmets could make the game more emotional.

“It might have a little effect in that regard. We’ll see,” Whittingham said. “But we certainly try to remember these guys every day. It’s not just the game that we wear the helmet on. … It could have a little more spark and a little more extra incentive.

Quarterback Cam Rising hopes the helmets can lead to more inspired play on the court.

“I just hope this makes us all dig deeper and really look to go. [extra] 22% and play just like they played – hard and physical and attack everything,” Rising said.

Villarreal, who hails from Nebraska, will attend Saturday’s game between the No. 11 Utes and Trojans. He’s become a big fan since he started handcrafting helmets for the team in 2019.

“The boys, my wife and I are just big Utah fans now because they’ve been so welcoming to us and just amazing,” Villarreal said. “Just working with Utah has been an incredible experience.”

Tribune reporter Julie Jag contributed to this story.

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