Exclusive: Making the Ducks’ Helmets

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NEWBERG, Ore. — The Duck football team’s uniforms — and the 512 combinations they can make — get people talking. But lately, the helmets are getting a lot of attention too. That’s thanks to a partnership between the University of Oregon, Nike and an Oregon company called Hydro Graphics, Inc.

“It’s exciting. We started this as a little pet project,” said Drew Gereb, the company’s vice president of business development.

What he describes as “a little pet project” has exploded into a very successful business since launching in 2009.

“When Nike approached us with the carbon fiber helmet, it was exciting,” Gereb said. “Then TCU and it keeps snowballing. You wonder if it’s going to stop.”

It’s not showing any signs of doing so; orders keep pouring into Hydro Graphics. The crew at the Newberg warehouse created dozens of helmet designs in the past three years, many of them over the summer. But some of the Ducks’ newest headwear has been ready to go since January. Nike and UO wanted something new for the Rose Bowl, so Hydro Graphics offered up three designs, according to Gereb: “The yellow one, which is Liquid Lightning. Of course, the Liquid Metal. And another one that I can’t talk about.”

‘Liquid Metal’ made the cut — and quite a splash when it hit the field.

“When you see something that is presented on TV and you have people just saying, ‘That is just cool,’ it makes you feel good,” Gereb said. “Unfortunately, it does put some pressure on us to try to come up with something new and exciting.”

The new and exciting additions ot the Ducks’ uniform lineup this season include ‘Liquid Lightning,’ ‘Liquid Thunder’ and ‘Liquid Carbon’ helmets. Gereb said it takes a lot to keep all the new designs under wraps.

“To me, it was amazing that the Liquid Metal helmet wasn’t leaked before the Rose Bowl,” he said. “We shut down our shop, we darkened all our windows, didn’t let anybody on the floor.”

That’s all well and good during production, but what about once the helmets are done and the Hydro Graphics staff is waiting for the team to wear them?

“You have friends come in and you wanna say, ‘Hey, wanna see the new Duck design?’ But you can’t. It’s really important that we keep these under wraps,” said Gereb.

Until — like a kid on Christmas morning — they can finally show off what they’ve been working on for months.

“There is a ton of pressure,” Gereb admitted. “You don’t want to let anybody down.”

Based on the reception so far, there’s little chance of that.

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