High school football 2011: Eye black gets cut down to size

New rules will cut down on the amount of eye black allowed for high school football players, which was not welcome news for Stone Bridge’s Aaron Palmer. “Why would they make a rule about something that doesn’t have anything to do with the safety of the game?” (Tracy A Woodward/WASHINGTON POST)
August 29, 2011

It started with a line across his face, just above his cheekbone, then down to the tip of his jaw and back up to the tip of his nose. Then Aaron Palmer colored everything in with eye black.

It was a ritual the Stone Bridge fullback and linebacker started as a freshman. Some might suggest it made Palmer look ready to go trick-or-treating on Halloween, but he thought it made him look menacing.

“It was how people knew me by across the ball when I lined up,” Palmer said. “I think it was a big intimidation factor.”

Palmer went through 20 sticks of eye black last season, at a cost of $3 per stick. This season, though, the 5-foot-11, 225-pound senior has to find a different look.

The National Federation of State High School Associations has restricted use of eye black. All that will be allowed is a single stroke under each eye, above the cheekbone.

No designs. No words. No logos. No numbers. Break the rule and it’s a five-yard penalty.

“Why would they make a rule about something that doesn’t have anything to do with the safety of the game?” Palmer said, noting that he often painted nearly a dozen teammates’ faces before games as well.

“I’m glad that’s out,” Stone Bridge Coach Mickey Thompson said. “If it’s not hurting anything and they’re playing football, I let it go. But I never liked it.”

The federation also banned the use of arm or leg bands that have become prevalent despite serving only a cosmetic purpose.

“I can see the rule against bands. You can get something caught in there, maybe break a finger or something,” Palmer said. “But eye black, that’s kind of ridiculous.”

Palmer did not take long to find a new way to stand out when opposing players size him up.

“I got a new mouthpiece,” he said. “With fangs on it.”

— Josh Barr

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