What is the significance of the decals on college football helmets?

I feel like kind of an idiot for not knowing this since I am a pretty big football fan but here goes. On a lot of college football teams you see players wearing varying numbers of decals on their helmets which seem to have some kind of player specific significance. For instance, Florida State players have tomahawks on their helmets, Ohio State has buckeyes. etc. I’ve always assumed it had some connection to their stats, maybe touchdowns or sacks or receptions or something else related to their specific positions. Sometimes it’s hard to think of a stat which would fit, though. A quarterback might have too many stickers for touchdowns to make sense but not enough to represent mere receptions.

So what’s going on with those stickers?

My impression is that some coaches hand them out for remarkably good plays of whatever sort. So an O-lineman might get one for blocking both his assignment and getting a piece of a linebacker to spring the tailback for a 30 yard gain. Or whatever. I’m sure this varies from team to team, though.

It’s pretty much a reward for doing something good. It varies from team to team, but it might be making a good play on the field, weightlifting results, practice effort, academic related, or whatever.

I see, so it might not necessarily relate to the stat book but to internal reward systems within the team?

That makes sense, treis, treis. Thanks. That’s one of those questions I’ve always sort of wondered about but never thought to ask on the Dope until now. Consider a small bit of ignorance defeated.

Which is why the stars sometimes have them all over the back and even onto the front of the helmet, and the subs will have just a few.

Yes. I think it’s more designed to reward those efforts/accomplishments not necessarily reflected in the stats. For example if a cornerback gives up his body by taking on a offensive linemen, allowing a linebacker to make a tackle. There is no statistic to measure that, but it’s extremely important for team success.

A running back that runs 70 yards for a touchdown will get plenty of glory, through statistics or getting on SportsCenter. The wide reciever that sprung the long run by blocking a linebacker won’t get that reward. The sticker system is designed to provide a reward for the wide reciever.

I always thought it came from the WW II practice of decorating airplane noses with decals for number of kills? Kind of lets everyone know who the “aces” are.


Ohio State is the best-known team to do that.

Former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes is the accepted pioneer, devising the idea along with trainer Ernie Biggs in 1968.

Helmet stickers, or pride stickers as they’re called in some locales, were born.

“Those Buckeye leaves are tradition. That sums it up,” said Ohio State product Ben Hartsock, an Ohio native and former Indianapolis Colts tight end who was picked up by Tennessee this week. "Every kid growing up, whatever era he came through, their idol had Buckeye leaves, if it was Archie Griffin, Eddie George or Craig Krenzel. As a child growing up, those Buckeye leaves meant success.

“I remember getting my first one. They were always team-oriented. It was never a competitive thing, it was just kind of something that the team knew that if you’re helmet was getting full, the team was doing well.”

Today, Ohio State gives them out for key performances on special teams, offense or defense. Coach Jim Tressel’s website — available for $49.95 per year — keeps a complete list of how many Buckeye leaves each player has won and the criteria for winning them.

“I think it’s something that has been stored here for quite some time,” Tressel said. "The size of the leaf has changed. The criteria of how you get them has changed many, many times.

“I think it’s something our guys take pride in, not so much to display on their helmet but seeing how many they can accumulate.”


On our campus (admittedly high school) the helmet decals are awarded from not only on-field accomplishments, but maintaining a suitably high GPA every week as well. Every Friday all the football players bring me forms to fill out, listing their GPA in my class. I don’t know the exact details, but I gather that having a “B” average each week gets you a decal.

From the Florida State University Football Media Guide:

Go 'Noles!

They are stupid.

After successfully completing first grade you should give up on getting stars pasted on your head.

Of course, there are too many college football players that never successfully completed first grade but that’s another thread.

Actually, you don’t see these things as much as you used to. I think a lot of programs are phasing them out, for being a bit ridiculous.

I always thought they were a little obnoxious. I prefer the Penn State approach- understated, no decals, not even a name on the jersey. Show your stuff where it counts- on the field, not emblazoned on your uniform.

I have to laugh whenever I see some sticker-heavy helmeted player getting schooled on the field- those decals aren’t helping you now, buddy.

I have never liked them because it seems the quarterback, running backs and receivers get lots of them, but if you look at the offensive linemen, they get very few of them. I know the backs and receivers are the ones that handle the ball and score touchdowns, but without the offensive linemen it wouldn’t happen.

And yes, I was an offensive lineman in highschool.

On my team, different positions earned their stickers based on different criteria. Defensive linemen needed X tackles in a game to get one. Running backs needed X yards, Receiver X catches, etc. Offensive linemen got theirs based on how well the QB and runners did.

Special stickers were given for big plays, like kick returns for touchdowns, causing fumbles, blocking kicks, etc.