Painting helmets turns lifetime Nebraska fan into Utes fan for life

SALT LAKE CITY – The 2022 Rose Bowl held special significance as the Utes closed out the season and honored two teammates, both wearing the number 22.

TThis year, the team has moved forward together while still taking time to honor his memory Ty and Aaron. And the way they got their brothers back on the field was really beautiful.

With the size of the crowd and the sound of the cheers, you’d never have guessed that what the Utes ran out of that game came from a backyard shed in Nebraska.

“Just me and my wife,” said Armando Villareal.

One hundred and fifty hand-painted helmets paying tribute to the memories of Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe, with their portraits on each side.

“Such a tribute to such a tragedy and the way the university and the fans and all of these two seemed to love that it was just difficult not to do that to them,” Villareal said.

Villareal has painted helmets for soccer teams across the country.

“I’m not even sure how many teams I’ve painted now,” he said. “I just do the work and ship it, and it’s no big deal.”

But there has always been something different about his work at the University of Utah.

“It’s just the way they welcomed us to school and university and everything, it was just amazing,” said Villareal.

The Forever 22 tribute helmets are the third painted by Villareal for the U. The first featured a throwback design that was painted to look exactly as it did in 1966. Each one is unique with rusty rivets, scratches and grass stains from what would have been a full season of use.

“It was very popular and all, but I didn’t get a lot of recognition,” Villareal said.

The second was a tribute to the crew of the USS Salt Lake City.

“This one really took off,” said Villareal.

It’s the one who cemented his family’s status as Utah fans for life.

“It was just such a big deal and they brought us to the game and we had to be on the field and see the dressing room and the practice facilities and be on the sidelines at the start of the game,” Villareal said. “And there was only, they let me bring my family. And the way we were greeted and everything else, it was just, it was unreal that the university would take the time to recognize us like that.”

“It’s just hard not to be a fan, you know, when you feel like family,” Villareal added.

And being part of the family made it impossible to say no to the school’s ambitious idea for this year.

“I told him I couldn’t do it because it would have been too much and he insisted. And we went back and forth for a while, and finally it was like, okay, let’s do it,” Villareal said. “You know it was kind of, it was one of those things, it’s kind of bigger than football and that’s probably going to be the toughest helmet I’ve ever made for a team, that’s for sure.”

“The university sent us some images to work with to place Aaron and Ty on each page and see how they would fit. We put the logo on the back and then we had a lot of empty space,” added Villareal.

“I get a little bit of creative leeway, you know, to actually make it work on a helmet and fill in some of the gaps and finalize the design,” he said.

“We were at the USS Salt Lake City game the year before and got to experience the moment of volume, so it just seemed fitting that we put something on the back burner to represent that and, you know, kindly include the fans as well , and, you know, the tribute they always take on them.”

“Having Ty and Aaron on the helmet just makes it a lot easier to just dig deep and do whatever it takes to try and get the W,” Utah quarterback Cam Rising said in a news conference.

“Being a part of something that’s so special to so many people just doesn’t make sense sometimes because I’m just the guy to do it. But then when you can actually come out and be with everyone and then see it on the field and everyone reacting to it and the players talking about it after the game and just, it just seems like a dream. I mean, most artists can’t do that. So I’m very, very lucky that we can do things like that and have such a following that Utah has that has treated us so well.

YYou can see a lot more about the making of this year’s Tribute helmets in a new documentary called Good Enough.

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